BYU Theatre Ballet turns classic story into short film

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BYU Theatre Ballet recently stepped away from the stage and into the woods to film the classic ballet story “Giselle.”

The company’s dancers took the stage version of the ballet ghost story and turned it into a short film over the course of three days in August, filming at LDS Motion Picture Studios and South Fork Park.

The romantic ballet “Giselle” tells the story of a young peasant girl who falls in love with a prince, only for it to end in tragedy.

Theatre Ballet dancers gather around Alex Marshall, who plays the title role of Giselle. Much of the shoot took place overnight in South Fork Park. (Walter Mirkšs)

BYU Theatre Ballet performed “Giselle” on campus in March. Ashley Parov, an assistant professor at BYU and the producer and choreographer of the film, said she has always been interested in Giselle’s character.

“It tells a very tragic story, but it doesn’t flesh out a lot of the emotional beats and personality of Giselle, and I really wanted to do that in this film,” she said.

Parov and her co-producer, Scott Cook, crafted the script together. Cook, a BYU alumnus and videographer, is a frequent collaborator with the Department of Dance. Parov said they brought in a storyboard artist to work out the details of the shoot after working on the script. 

The process of turning the stage ballet into a film was a challenging one, Parov said. The actors had to deal with a variety of obstacles, including learning a few lines of German and dancing in undesirable conditions.

Alex Marshall, a BYU student from Medford, Oregon, played the title role of Giselle. She talked about the shoot’s filming conditions and necessary adaptations.

“We learned very quickly that there are some things you just can’t do in the mud and the dirt,” Marshall said. “The ground was super soft and to go up on our pointe shoes became almost impossible in some areas, just because we would sink into the ground like quicksand.”

BYU dancers Ryan Lambert and Alex Marshall share a scene together in the film “Giselle.” The film is expected to be released to film festivals after production ends. (Walter Mirkšs)

A number of changes were made to the format of the story as well. Ryan Lambert, a BYU accounting student from Draper, is another lead in the film. He said there is a difference between the film and stage versions of “Giselle.”

“The film is focusing a little bit more on the story, rather than the dancing,” Lambert said. “Our performance in March was very much for the dancing element of it, and we kind of skipped over some of the story that you get in the first act. For the film, we wanted to include that story.”

Despite the challenges, the overall experience left the participants inspired. Marshall said she feels this ballet is one of hope. 

“True love conquers all,” Marshall said. “And good things can come out of our sacrifices, which I think is relevant to what we’re going through today, how sometimes we have to sacrifice a lot to have a happy ending.” 

Parov said post-production on the film is planned to wrap up in December, when it will then be submitted to various film festivals.

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