Luis Dominguez did not have to look far for people to tell him not to present Giselle.
There was his friend Duncan Cooper, who came in to direct the Lexington Ballet's most recent show, 21st Century Ballet. Dominguez says the director told him he should consider excerpts, "but not the whole show. That's just too much."
Even Dominguez's wife, Nancy, a dance instructor herself, expressed reservations about taking on the classical ballet masterpiece.
And that's why performances of majestic, classic ballet titles such as Giselle, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty have been few and far between on the schedules of Lexington's ballet companies in recent years. They are big, expensive, complex shows requiring a lot of experienced and skilled dancers.
The last time the Lexington Ballet took on Giselle was 1997, the year before a financial crisis completely redefined the company and the city's ballet scene.
Kentucky Ballet Theatre, a professional company that formed in 1998 out of the implosion of the Lexington Ballet, has presented a few marquee ballet titles in recent years, notably Coppélia and Cinderella. But Lexington Ballet has not presented a traditional classical ballet in its entirety, except for The Nutcracker, in more than a decade.
Dominguez says that one reason he forged ahead with Giselle is that he thinks it is essential to take on big titles so the company can be taken seriously.
"At first I wasn't interested in classics," says Dominguez, who has been the company's director since 2003. "I was all about doing new stuff. But the reality is nothing is new, and in order to know where you're going, you need to know where it all is coming from.
"The classics are the classics for a reason. There is a whole life in this ballet that flows. Adding this ballet to the repertoire will give us a little credibility in the sense that not only are they able to do contemporary dance, but they are also able to do some of the classics, and taking the bull by the horns and doing it is an important step."
The primary thing that has paved the way for Lexington Ballet to present Giselle is the reinstitution of a professional company, which started in the 2009-10 season with a corps of nine women and has expanded this season with 13 dancers, including three men. The full cast of Giselle is even larger: 27, including students from the school of the Lexington Ballet.
It's also important to the professional dancers to be in a company that presents the major classics, says Lauren Tenney, who will dance the title role in Giselle.
"When I trained in New York City, all the things we did were classical, so I rarely got to do contemporary works," says Tenney, who previously danced as Giselle and as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty at the Metropolitan Ballet of Topeka (Kansas). "I wanted to be part of a company that does classical works, because that's what I trained in."
Tenney says she thinks that the contemporary work she has done the past two years with Lexington Ballet has helped her bring new nuances to this performance as Giselle.
The 1841 ballet tells the story of a peasant girl in the Middle Ages who unwittingly falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman masquerading as a peasant. Upon learning of his deception, she dies from a broken heart. But she returns as a ghost to protect Albrecht from spirits that seek revenge upon him.
The story ballet genre — which Kentucky Ballet Theatre has presented more frequently, including new works based on stories such as Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz — is a different form for audiences to orient themselves to.
Tenney says that in other theatrical genres, including musical theater, performers can rely on words and song to tell their stories.
"In dance, you only have gestures and fancy footwork to get you through," she says. "It's almost like being completely naked. You're completely exposed, and you only have a gesture. So I think the audience is still trying to figure it out and understand what you're saying."
Dominguez says The Nutcracker is in part so successful because the first act relies heavily on mime to tell the story, setting the plot up in an easily understandable way. Giselle, he says, lays the groundwork similarly.
Plans are for the Lexington Ballet to give audiences more opportunities to see big, classic ballets in the future, with Scheherazade on the schedule for next season, in addition to the company's now-signature contemporary work.
"We have gained momentum and critical mass, and the time is right for us to do this ballet," Dominguez says. "The future is not here yet, but I think what we're doing here will create a brighter one for the company."
Reach Rich Copley at (859) 231-3217 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3217.