Like many wild imaginings that have materialized into full scale performances, such as the annual Land of the Sweets and Through the Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice in Wonderland, Lily Verlaine’s new work Giselle began, like so many of her endeavors, with the question: “What if?”
What if the familiar characters of the classical ballet Giselle were re-imagined as modern-day lovers, waylaid and tormented by the scorned female spirits of The Wilis in a haunted bed and breakfast? With choreography by Lily herself and a Gregory Award-winning set designed by Julia Welch, the House of Verlaine’s “Exquisite Assemblage of Daring Classical Artists” explores this feverish tale in two acts.
Giselle marks the first major work of House of Verlaine, the erotic ballet company Lily first imagined years ago as a risqué classical dance based-counterpoint to the playful burlesque-with-a-twist that audiences have come to know from her shared creations with co-producer Jasper McCann of Verlaine & McCann Present.
Many faces in the company and cast for Giselle will be familiar to longtime fans: Paris Original (Mod Carousel, Verlaine McCann), Lara Seefeldt (Spectrum Dance Theater, Whim W’Him), Davione Gordon (Spectrum Dance Theater, Verlaine & McCann), Thomas Phelan (Whim W’Him), Christin Purcell (International Ballet Theater), Molly Levy (LED Boise; Verlaine & McCann), Hannah Simmons (Velocity Dance), Alice Cao (American Repertory Ballet), and Scotty Flores (DanceCrush Award-winner).
The dancers were cast by virtue of their strong technical backgrounds combined with a dedication, discipline, and spark that Lily admires as a bit of a renegade and as a professionally trained dancer herself.
Choreography and narrative written by a female artist is less common than one might expect in the world of dance – even less so those that explore the hedonistic worlds Lily creates. Her hope is that despite the step backward our current politics have taken, more roles will soon exist for dancers that allow them to enact erotic, gritty, and joyful aspects of sexuality in the way that House of Verlaine envisions.
“What I try and draw out of my dancers is a laissez-faire attitude about sexuality, and I provide a stage on which they can express a little bit more graphically the themes that classical dance conceals. And so what we tend to dig into are the more explicit elements. It’s presented in quite a sophisticated way, and I feel it’s refreshing to adult dancers to express that,” she explained by phone in a break between rehearsals. “The older I get the more layers I find in my own sexuality.”
Although House of Verlaine’s story of Giselle has been in the works for several years, in hindsight Lily feels as though the first half was written when she was a different person. Like many, she found herself changed after November 8. The optimism and hope we enjoyed as a country seemed to fall away overnight, leaving fear and distrust in its place.
“I was in a lusty period of my life – many things for me personally (and politically) seemed to be coming up roses,” she said. “Watching Hillary battle an offensive, female-abusive person like Trump, then lose an election to him…it cast a shadow. A misogynistic reality – with a lot of power behind it – came out between the writing of acts one and two.” (At this point, scenes in both acts have changed and Lily is uncertain whether audiences would pick up on any nuances, but perhaps it influenced the tonality).
Drowning in chaotic headlines and horror stories that roll in on a daily basis, Lily feels a renewed sense of purpose and urgency in producing her next new work.
Pre-production and fundraising are currently under way for House of Verlaine’s Romeo & Juliet, imagined in a way that only Lily could. What if…Romeo & Juliet were both women? The Montague family perhaps from the alt-right/neo-Nazi-esque modern world; the Capulets liberated and accepting as all chosen families would be in the world that Lily herself would like to inhabit. What if?
During the pause between the two acts of Giselle, Lily will offer a champagne toast to all guests in solidarity and in celebration of her new creation with a sneak preview. Find out more at houseofverlaine.com. Giselle premieres with three performances at the Triple Door August 31 and September 1.
Lily Verlaine interviewed by Jessica Price.