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Photo: Evan Li
Photo: Evan Li
Production - Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel
Choreography - Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel (after Marius Petipa)
Set Design - Howard Jones
Costume Design - Natalia Stewart
Lighting Design - Kendall Smith
Conductor - Michael Lloyd
The Telstra Clear Season

at Civic Theatre, Invercargill
From 20 Nov 2012 to 21 Nov 2012
[2.5 hours]

Reviewed by Kasey Dewar, 21 Nov 2012

It was with growing excitement I read my invitation email to the opening night of Giselle in Invercargill on the 20th of November. While I knew the basic outline of the story, I had not seen the ballet performed so I was looking forward to seeing how the Royal New Zealand Ballet presented it.

Giselle was first performed in France in 1841. The ballet describes the doomed love story of Albrecht, a noble man who disguises himself as a peasant named Lenz, and Giselle, the young village girl with who he is smitten. This version has been produced and choreographed by Johan Kobborg & Ethan Stiefel and utilises the music of Adolphe Adam.

The first act begins within the village; Albrecht danced by Andrew Bowman arrives in his peasant clothes and sets about wooing Giselle, danced beautifully by Antonia Hewitt. While initially unsure, Giselle eventually returns his feelings and falls deeply in love with the man she thinks is Lenz. The interaction between Giselle and Lenz is wonderful to watch, longing looks; gentle touches and delicate choreography have you hoping they'll have a happy ending at this early point in the performance.

The appearance of Hilarion danced by Dimitri Kleioris is a stark contrast to the earlier scene. He is a rival suitor after Giselle's heart and isn't happy when he finds her taken by Lenz. I love the energy of Hilarion, at first eagerly trying to convince Giselle of his love for her and then rampaging around the stage wanting to take out his rage on Lenz.

Things become slightly suspicious when the aristocracy stop briefly by the village. Albrecht runs away and hides, as he is not meant to be associating with the peasants and certainly shouldn't be dressing like one. Hilarion notices this odd behaviour and after the aristocracy leave, finds Albrecht's sword and horn hidden in a shed. In his eagerness to win Giselle, he outs Albrecht's secret. When the aristocracy return, it becomes apparent that Albrecht being a nobleman is not the only problem. I joined the rest of the audience in uttering a tiny gasp when Albrecht's wife-to-be steps forward! Giselle descends into madness, crazed hair; a far off look and rag doll-style dancing clearly convey her feelings of betrayal. I almost found this piece hard to watch, the combination of clever choreography, excellent acting from Antonia as Giselle, and the musical score, had me squirming in my seat!

The second act begins after Giselle's death from a broken heart. The Royal New Zealand Ballet's sets always have me in awe and this time is no exception. The moving tree screen is a perfectly creepy way to open the scene in the forest. Clever use of veils, running Wilis and ramps at the back of the set have me convinced there are ghostly women flying around the stage. Myrtha Queen of the Willis is danced by Lucy Balfour who pulls off the icy, graceful character beautifully. She calls her Wilis into the clearing – a scene that is exactly how you imagine Giselle, pale woman in classic long white tutus dancing gorgeously in time. If the idea was to have the audience transfixed like the poor men lured to dance to the death with the Willis – mission accomplished. A fate Hilarion meets unfortunately!

Myrtha summons Giselle to join the other Willis and Albrecht is lured into the forest where the Willis try to dance him to death. Giselle forgives Albrecht though and spends the night protecting him from Myrtha and the Wilis. Their tender duets throughout the scene convey the love Giselle and Albrecht have for each other. Albrecht survives the night and the Willis disappear into the forest in the dawn.

The ballet ends with a haunting scene of the older Albrecht visiting Giselle's grave and the army of Willis advancing on him from the side of the stage.

Giselle is a ballet of contrasts. From the significant difference in  the mood between Act 1 and 2 , the light and happy village and the dark, creepy forest, to the difference in personalities between the characters of Albrecht and Hilarion. The story flows easily throughout the scenes and as usual with the RNZB is easy to follow. The bouts of clapping between scenes and the multiple murmurings of “wow!” after the final curtain drops prove the audience is captivated by the romance of Giselle

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