A freelance writer, reviewer and broadcaster passionate about South Australia's fabulous wine and food.
Dance till you drop
The Australian Ballet made a triumphant return to Adelaide last night with the Maina Gielgud production of Giselle, a Romantic 19th century ballet of love and betrayal.
The story is of an innocent peasant girl (Giselle) who meets and falls for a deceitful nobleman (Count Albrecht), who disguises himself as a peasant in order to seduce her. She resists him, but then accepts his fake proposal of marriage (unaware that he is already engaged to the Princess Bathilde), much to the chagrin of the local gamekeeper, Hilarion, who is also in love with Giselle.
Hilarion, of course, discovers the Count's deviousness and denounces him to Giselle, whose weak heart is broken, so she goes mad and dramatically dies. Thus endeth the first act…
The second act changes the tempo and takes us to Giselle's graveside in the forest, where she has now become one of the ghostly Wilis, girls who have been betrayed in love and now haunt the forest, luring hapless young men to dance through the night until they die from exhaustion. We then see the heartbroken Hilarion taken by the Wilis and forced to dance until he collapses. This leaves the way clear for the remorseful Count Albrecht to visit the grave and when the Queen of the Wilis commands Giselle to dance with him, she contrives to keep him alive throughout the darkness, until the Wilis lose their powers with the coming of the day. Giselle must then return to her grave, leaving her beloved Albrecht to his sorrow and guilt.
The setting for the first act, the village wine festival, gives an excuse for lots of merriment, some boisterous dancing from the corps de ballet and an exciting pas de deux from Miwako Kubota and Chengwu Guo. The Australian Ballet is lucky to currently have a strong backbone of young male dancers and Chengwu's performance here was most impressive. Brett Simon, as the ill-fated Hilarion, was suitably grim and dramatic, as he tries to win Giselle's love from Albrecht. The visit of the hunting party and the appearance of Albrecht's fiancée, the princess, brings in a more regal note, with rich costumes and stately music. The princess's sumptuous gown contrasts strongly with Giselle's simple frock, as her arrival with her courtiers and hunting hounds dampens the playful enthusiasm displayed by the peasants. (However, the pair of magnificent wolfhounds nearly stole the show when one of them decided it was time to leave and towed his hapless handler from the stage!)
But the ballet was Madeleine Eastoe's from the start and the innocent exuberance of Giselle was beautifully portrayed by this seasoned artist. The long familiarity between her and Kevin Jackson, as two of the company's most experienced Principals, shows, and the pair exhibit an easy partnership, thrilling the audience with their skill and execution. Jackson's cheeky, seductive persona perfectly contrasts that of the shy young girl and the story is beautifully told through their dancing.
Act 2 brings us a darker scene, in setting and in atmosphere, with a gloomy forest and ghostly dancers all in white, dancing tirelessly throughout the night. Giselle's dancing is more sombre, classically precise and she glides across the stage with the elegant Wilis, looking suitably wistful and tragic. Albrecht also gets some great choreography in this act and Kevin Jackson takes full advantage of it, with rousing applause from the audience for a series of brilliant sautés.
The music, by French composer Adolphe Adam, was superbly interpreted with great vigour by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, who always seem to rise to the occasion when Chief Conductor Nicolette Fraillon is around.
A capacity opening night audience was obviously pleased by this production and gave a standing ovation to the company.
Sadly, the Adelaide season marks the farewell appearance of Madeleine Eastoe and this just adds a piquant note to her brilliant performance.
Giselle is at The Festival Theatre until Monday July 6th - check the Australian Ballet website for tickets.