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This interview was originally published in 2008

As soon as Ambra Vallo begins talking about performing Giselle, it becomes apparent that this is going to be one of the easiest interviews ever conducted. Combining an acute understanding of the character with an evident passion for the role, she talks at length about the challenges of the ballet.

‘What it is about, Giselle, is the challenge, in the difference between the first and second act,’ says Naples-born Ambra, a Principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet since 2001. ‘In the first act Giselle is a young girl, and she is full of life. She is joyful but naïve, and when she falls in love with Albrecht it is the first time she has felt love, I think. This is why she goes so completely nuts at the end of the act, when she finds out that Albrecht must marry another girl, Bathilde.

‘The first act then ends on a very dramatic note with her death, and in the second act she becomes this kind of detached spirit, so the quality of the dancing changes completely, it’s almost like two completely different people.

‘In Act II everything she does is almost glazed, as she’s not quite real. You need to be so light, so controlled. Technically we do the most difficult things in the second act ever. In the first act you are on stage all the time as well so you’re really, really tired by this point but of course you can’t wobble, everything needs to be so controlled and so graceful!’

Ambra Vallo and Joseph Caley; photo: Bill Cooper

Ambra Vallo and Joseph Caley; photo: Bill Cooper

As well as the contrast in choreography, Ambra enjoys the challenge of the emotional investment. ‘I find that with Romeo and Juliet the dramatic peak is the end actually with their death,’ she explains, ‘so all of your emotions can explode and there, you’re finished, it’s the end of the ballet. But what I find really difficult with Giselle, especially when I get really into it with the madness scene at the end of Act I, is that you’re only half way through the show!

‘You are completely drained, but you just need to go straight off for a quick change and to put the white make-up on, change the hair, and get back to the stage for the second act. Having been all dramatic and intense and… [Gasps, wide-eyed], like that, you need to go really calm and serene, and all in 15 minutes! It’s almost like another ballet by the time you arrive for the second act.’

When Giselle’s spirit returns in Act II, she has forgiven Albrecht for not telling her about Bathilde. Ambra explains: ‘She’s actually protecting him because she sees that he is really sorry. While he was betrothed to another I think that he really loved her, and while he was not forced, as part of an aristocratic family he would have been set up to marry this other woman.’

2008 marks the fourth time that Ambra will be dancing the piece with Birmingham Royal Ballet, having also performed it around the world with other companies. She names Giselle as one of her two favourite ballets (the other being the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet), and relishes the opportunity to once again tell a story that deals with such a range of emotions.

Describing dancers as a cross between athletes and actors, she says: ‘I think when you are acting a lot of your personality comes out. That is how you can see two or three people doing the same role, and even if choreographically we need to do the exact same thing, I think it will come across so differently because it will be Ambra playing Giselle, or Nao playing Giselle or Elisha playing Giselle, each doing the character in our own way.

‘People feel love in a different way,’ she considers, ‘they suffer in a different way, even in life, each one of us would actually experience the emotions that are of course in the life of everybody, we all go through death or love or hatred, all of these strong feelings, but we all react very differently to them. So when you go on stage, and are replicating these emotions, drawing upon your own experiences, it will be different from the next performer.

It is important that the emotions you put forward are based on real things, because you have to believe in the story in order for the audience to believe in it.’

Birmingham Royal Ballet performs Giselle at Birmingham Hippodrome, 19-22 June 2013.

Click here for details of this performance, as well as shows in Dublin and Belfast.