Helen Daigle: Staging Cold Virtues for a West Michigan Audience
A Q&A with Grand Rapids Ballet’s Marketing Director, Michael Erickson
Our powerful production of Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird is just a part of of what promises to be an exceptional presentation of dance. The show also includes a world premiere from our resident choreographer, Penny Saunders, entitled Again; Artistic Director James Sofranko’s Mozart Symphony for the first time on the Peter Martin Wege Theatre stage; and Adam Hougland’s Cold Virtues. Adam is the Principle Choreographer for Louisville Ballet and Resident Choreographer for Cincinnati Ballet. He is also Artist in Residence at The Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Adam’s a very busy man, to say the least, and was unavailable to come to Grand Rapids until a week before opening night — this is often the case with in-demand choreographers due to previous commitments and grueling schedules. It’s also true that, regardless of their availability, many choreographers don’t restage their own work and often prefer to bring in someone with that specific skill set. That’s where Helen Daigle comes in.
After 20 seasons with Louisville Ballet, Helen retired and transitioned to the Company’s artistic staff as ballet mistress. One of her myriad responsibilities there includes working with other companies to stage productions from its extensive repertoire. And we were lucky to have her spend time in our studios perfecting Adam’s Cold Virtues on our dancers. Let’s learn more about her and her process, shall we?
Q: Welcome to Grand Rapids Ballet, Helen. Tell our readers a little about yourself.
A: Thank you. Sure, I started dancing at the age of seven and received my early training from Baton Rouge Ballet Theater before attending Joffrey Ballet School and The School of American Ballet in New York. My professional career started at 18 with Feld Ballets/NY and Ballet Hisapanico before joining Louisville Ballet.
Q: Have you worked with Grand Rapids Ballet before? If not, what are you finding most surprising about the Company and its dancers?
A: I have not had the pleasure of working here before, and it is a pleasure. The dancers are lovely and very quick to take in the material I am throwing at them every day.
Q: So, you’re here staging Cold Virtues for our production, Firebird, opening October 18. Tell us about this rather deliciously dark work – what does it mean to you and what will the audience take away from it? Is there a “story?”
A: This was the first Ballet Adam created new on Louisville Ballet and it truly holds a special place in my heart. It is a somewhat dark work both in lighting and mood and while it does have a narrative, I feel it is more of a journey both for the dancers and audience. Certainly the two featured women are altered by their experiences during the piece, and I think the audience will be, too.
Q: How do you approach the acting component. I mean, it’s one thing to teach steps, but how do you work with the dancers to pull out the emotion?
A: I talk a lot about the energy or intent of a step. Dancers act with their whole bodies so if they feel the intent of each step then the emotion will be imbued in every step they dance.
Q: What’s the best piece of dance advice you’ve received and from whom?
A: John Magnus, with whom I studied at The Joffrey Ballet School, said to me: “Never bring the outside world into ballet, but always take ballet into the outside world.” I took it to mean I had permission to let everything go when I stepped into a studio and only dance and, in turn, I could dance my way through the rest of my life and that was OK, too. It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it?
Q: It really is. We could all benefit from dancing through life a bit more, couldn’t we? Speaking of dancing through life, what’s next for you?
A: Louisville Ballet has a triple bill October 18-19, so I start work with the stager for George Balanchine’s Serenade first thing on Monday.
For even more information on Helen’s time here, listen to her recent appearance with Artistic Director James Sofranko on WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin.
See Helen’s efforts when Cold Virtues runs as part of Firebird October 18-20 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com today!