On Stage with Giselle

By staff November 30, 2009

Everything was beautiful at the ballet.


The Sarasota Ballet’s Giselle was fabulous, and I’m not just saying that because I was in it. Yes, me—in Giselle! And with Alina Cojocaru from the Royal Ballet, perhaps the leading Giselle of the day. I played one of   the Court Gentlemen, not a large part if truth be told, but Alina and I actually had a “moment” together. She pushes me out of her way during her famous mad scene. Of course, she pushes everybody out of her way, but she pushes me the hardest.


There were five of us Court Gentlemen—me, Mike Bear, Matt Orr, Russ Townsend, Joe Arnegger and Leif Bjaland. Everybody thought we were terrific. At least that was what they kept telling us, “they” being Iain Webb, who runs the ballet, and Maggie Barbieri, who did the staging and was a famous Giselle herself.

Matt Orr and me as Court Gentlemen.


Giselle is one of those ballets that tell a story, rather like an opera. What’s happening is made clear through dance, but the performers also use gesture and facial expression to reinforce the action. I quickly learned the entire repertoire of ballet gestures, those graceful movements of the hands which, when combined with a well-chosen facial expression, can convey crucial information like:


-         “What a cute peasant hut.”

-         “Look at that engagement ring!”

-         “She’s acting nuts.”

-         “Should we leave now?”



I thought all of us Court Gentlemen were pretty good, but I’d have to give the prize to Leif. You know Leif, he’s the conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra. He’s very big and has a tendency to command the stage, particularly when he stands right in front of me, blocking me from view. It was hard to get the focus off him. And when he starts with the gestures, well, I was kind of left in the dust. I think he practiced them at home. I tried to overcompensate but then started to look like I was performing a hula. And I do feel a little sorry for my Court Lady, Kimberly Stevens. She was busy using gesture and expression to convey one thought, over and over: “Get off of my train!”

 Leif Bjaland and Emil de Cou.


I must say I was terribly impressed with the entire cast. But you want to know something I learned from Alina? Ballet really is all about face and hands. Her expressions are so pure they break your heart, and her hands—they are the most amazing things. They flutter and they bend in unusual ways. You should have seen the girls in the corps—they watched everything she did, time after time, seeing how it’s done.


Much merriment was caused by our costumes, which were originally made for a Japanese production. Court Gentlemen are smaller there, and they had quite a time letting out our outfits. Luckily we wore capes over the back to cover the enormous gaps. And they weighed a ton. As Emil de Cou, the conductor, said while attempting to lift one, “This has more fabric than my parents’ living room.”


Even more fun were our tights. The picture of Joe Arnegger and his rowdy behavior in the dressing room was a Facebook sensation, but unfortunately cannot be shown here.


The view from the wings.


And somehow this leads us to The Nutcracker, which will be performed by the ballet on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 4 and 5. Parents should note that Joe will not be performing and that everything is perfectly suitable for children. In fact, 65 of them will be performing onstage.






These days, if it isn’t the arts, it’s politics, and all the town’s political junkies turned out in force for Bob Graham’s talk—sponsored by Forum Truth—at the Hyatt. Bob Graham has been both our governor and our senator (not to mention a waiter at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre) but he says that his preferred honorific is “Super Doodle,” which is what his grandchildren call him.


His talk dealt with the current state of citizenship in Florida, and as you may have noticed, it’s not in very good shape. The New York Times considers us the most corrupt state in the union, and the decline of serious journalism and chronic over-gerrymandering have led us to a dangerous position. The Senator (or rather the Super Doodle) was also quite passionate about how offshore oil drilling is being rammed down our throats. “We must not let it happen,” he told the crowd, and I became an instant convert to the cause. Even more terrifying is the threat caused by Pakistan. It’s the most likely way a weapon of mass destruction will find its way into the hands of terrorists.

 Dawn Sharp with Bob Graham.



Keith Fitzgerald, Caren Lobo

and Larry Eger

Any good news? Well, the Super Doodle really likes the Hyatt. He and his wife like to spend their anniversaries here as it holds many happy memories of triumphs in his political career. I hope they’ll be here for the upcoming Forum Truth speakers: Mark Thompson on Jan. 7, Hedrick Smith on Feb. 4, Cynthia Tucker on March 24, and Linda Greenhouse on April 14, who will tell us all the latest dish on the Supreme Court.


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