Freaking out: The title charachter begins to lose her mind in Alabama Ballet’s production of Giselle. Photo by Billy Brown.

I hate Valentine’s Day. Call me the Love Grinch if you will, but as far as I’m concerned, never has there been a more loathsome, extraneous and humiliating holiday than the orgy of consumerism known as Valentine’s Day. One could say the same thing about Christmas, but at least on that occasion there is still some semblance of religious remembrance and cultural nostalgia attached. Though the February 14 observance was once a harmless ritual involving handmade tokens of love for those souls whose affection you cherished, it has evolved into the king of “Hallmark Holidays”, a reason for us to spend our hard-earned dollars on poorly manufactured crap that will quickly find its way into area land-fills. Apparently, nothing says love like some wilted flowers, a plastic piece of junk, tasteless chocolates and a cheesy romantic phrase cranked out by some army of copywriters in the bowels of a greeting card factory. It wasn’t always this way. There was a real  Saint Valentine or two, though I challenge anyone to tell me the specifics of their sacrifice or any details relating to the reason we celebrate their existence. Nothing? Well here’s a primer. The two gentleman whose namesakes gave birth to this atrocious holiday were Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni, one a priest and the other a bishop between AD 200 and AD 300. Both were martyrs buried along the Via Flaminia near Rome. There are no romantic elements associated with either, and in 1969 the event was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints because, according to Wikipedia, “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

That’s right, there is no connection between the modern holiday and its supposed origin. It was pulled out of the nether regions of our collective subconscious so that we could further bolster the American economy by wasting our money.

But enough about meaningless consumerism. I think I’ve hammered that point home. Let’s talk about what Valentine’s Day is doing to our relationships and self-respect. There is no possible way to have a good Valentine’s Day. If you are single, you get to spend the day surrounded by reminders of how pathetically alone you are, and if you are in a relationship, you face the insurmountable task of creating a romantic gesture so grand that it outdoes every portrayal that the media begins to force-feed us sometime in the beginning of January every year. So we stress and we spend and in the end we have nothing to show for our efforts but the disappointing reality that we are not princes and princesses with mountains of diamonds and roses to throw at the feet of our beloveds. And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you do manage to pull off some kind of monumental romantic gesture. You still fail, for two reasons. One, you now need to top that gesture every year until the relationship dies. Two, you were forced into this gesture, and how great can an anticipated gesture be? The truly great displays of romantic affection are unexpected and unforced.

Which brings me to another complaint. I am a romantic at heart, I truly am, and it is for this reason that I find the idea of shoveling all of my love for my beloved into a single day ridiculous. I love my wife every day, not just on February 14. I love surprising her with gifts or unexpected tokens of my affection, and I find all of the enjoyment I get from them sucked out of me by the necessity of Valentine’s day, so much so that my wife and I stopped celebrating the event all-together.

Well, that’s all well and good for me, but many of you risk offending those dearest to you by jumping on my anti-Valentines band-wagon, and I would never want to cause you additional pain on such a stressful day. Luckily, I have the perfect event for you, one that will satisfy your needs for a grand gesture, is a truly special outing and understands the nefarious undercurrents of the holiday.

I am talking of Alabama Ballet’s production of  Giselle. A classic ballet which centers around the story of a young woman who dies because her lover is unfaithful, and whose ghost subsequently protects him from a group of evil female specters who try to destroy him, Giselle is the perfect Ballet for the jaded and jilted among us.

Watch out cheaters! This cadre of evil spirits, known as the Wilis, are coming to get you. Photo by Billy Brown.

I recently had a chance to talk to Tracey Alvey, the Artistic Director of Alabama Ballet, and she concurs. “This is really a ballet for people that have been burned, feel that they’re betrayed, have been through the ringer, as it were, on the romantic side,” says Alvey. “We’ve all been there, whether we’re young or old, most of us have had that relationship where you’ve been in love with a person more than they’ve been in love with you. You ask yourself, at the beginning of [Giselle], is he just out for flirtation or is this something that he’s really serious about, this girl. And of course, it’s not until Act Two that he realizes that, yes, he is serious about the girl, but she’s gone by then, it’s too late.”

To that end, Alabama is promoting the production by encouraging people to tell their own anti-Valentine’s stories.They are partnering with MyScoop and McCormick & Schmick’s to throw an “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party after the February 19 evening performance. Anyone with a terrible story to tell can send it to before 5 p.m. on February 17 and be entered to win a spa package at Ross Bridge Resort, two box seats to Giselle, free drinks and transportation to the “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party.

This isn’t to detract from Giselle itself. The production features some very strong and unique dancers, especially the women who portray Giselle herself. Says Alvey, “I feel that Giselle is, because of her history and the manner in which she dies in the production—she supposedly has a heart condition—so it’s really important that I don’t put someone on stage who looks too robust and too fit. You need to believe that she’s fragile, that she’s breakable and that it can actually, truly happen. They also have to have a phenomenal acting ability because there is a scene at the end of Act One where she literally loses her mind through grief and through pain and remorse, and that’s obviously when she dies, her fragile disposi tion  can’t recover. Technically, she needs to have a very, very strong jump, because in the second act we have to have that illusion that Giselle is above the earth. She’s not of this earth, we have to feel that she could very well jump and leave the earth if she wanted to, so there has to be that lovely quality where she has an easy jump.”

Let’s face it, folks. A trip to the ballet is pretty high up there on the list of things that count as a big gesture on Valentine’s Day, and you couldn’t ask for a better ballet to attend. “Joking apart,” says Alvey, “it is a beautiful, beautiful ballet. For Valentine’s Day, if boyfriends want to get their girlfriends or wives the ultimate gift, it would be anything to the Ballet, and it’s not a long ballet for all you football fans, you can sit through it. It’s not like you’re coming to a three act ordeal. It’s short, the music phenomenal, and people will really enjoy it.”

So this year, maybe you can have it both ways. You can give your special someone a really special evening, while keeping the noxious qualities of Valentine’s Day at relative bay. Because, love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Alabama Ballet’s production of Giselle begins Friday, February 18 and runs through Sunday, February 20. The “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party will be after the February 19 evening performance at McCormick & Schmick’s. For more information visit

Sam George is the managing editor of Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to

Orig­i­nally printed in Birm­ing­ham Weekly on February 10, 2010.

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