Music by Adolphe Adam. Production by Maina Gielgud. Choreography by Marius Petipa, Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot. The Australian Ballet with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. Canberra Theatre. Until May 26. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
Giselle is one of the great works of the balletic repertoire. Its story of love, betrayal and forgiveness needs powerful acting as well as exceptional dancing, and its romantic heritage (it was first performed in Paris in 1841) requires that its two acts be very different from each other. The first act, showing village life at harvest time, is grounded in reality; the second, set in a ghostly forest clearing at midnight, is just the opposite. The opening night of the Australian Ballet's Canberra season of Giselle ticked all the boxes and was nothing short of stunning.
In the leading roles of the peasant girl Giselle, and Albrecht, the man Giselle loves, Lana Jones and Adam Bull danced exceptionally well, both together and in their respective solos. The relationship between them unfolded beautifully throughout Act I. Then, when Albrecht's true identity was revealed – he is not the peasant he seems to be but a Count in disguise – Jones brought compelling dramatic force to her mental collapse. Bull played Albrecht as a man genuinely in love and, although he could not deny his aristocratic lineage when confronted with it, we felt his anguish as he faced Giselle's onstage death.
By Act II Giselle, as prefigured in Act I, has become a Wili and rises from the grave to join others like her who have been betrayed in love. They prey upon men who enter their domain at night and, at the command of Myrtha, their Queen, condemn them to dance until they die. Jones and Bull again showed their exceptional technical skills but also consistently stayed in character. Their first encounter, after Albrecht had entered the forest to mourn at Giselle's grave, was a moving one. Jones drifted past Bull as an apparition whom he could not catch. As the act progressed we felt Bull's desperation as he obeyed the command to keep dancing, and we felt Jones' all-consuming love as she pleaded that he be saved.
As Myrtha, Ako Kondo was superb. She was, as ever, technically assured. But she also brought just the right imperious quality to her performance. No one could escape her cold-heartedness.
Hilarion, the rough and untutored gamekeeper also in love with Giselle, was strongly danced by Andrew Killian. His role in unmasking Albrecht in Act I is crucial and Killian made his every move and thought unmistakably clear.
The peasant pas de deux, a highlight of Act I, was danced by Miwako Kubota and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson. They made a charming couple, both in their dancing and in the way they engaged with each other, and with us in the auditorium. Natasha Kusen and Robyn Hendricks also caught my eye for their lyrical performance as the leading Wilis in Act II.
Although the size of the Canberra stage caused one or two difficult moments, the dancers of the Australian Ballet performed as the true professionals they are. It was a wonderful Giselle, beautifully danced, thoroughly engaging, and dramatically convincing throughout.
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