• Madeleine Eastoe & Kevin Jackson. Photo: Jeff Busby.
    Madeleine Eastoe & Kevin Jackson. Photo: Jeff Busby.
  • Chengwu Guo & Reiko Hombo.  Photo: Jef Busby.
    Chengwu Guo & Reiko Hombo. Photo: Jef Busby.
  • Photo: Jeff Busby
    Photo: Jeff Busby

The Australian Ballet: Giselle -
State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne, 13 March -

There's no doubting that a loved classic such as Giselle is a great way to bring in a new ballet season. Add to that the final performances of one of Australia's favourite ballerinas, and audiences are primed to love every moment. Madeleine Eastoe is dancing Giselle as her final role before retiring from the Australian Ballet in July. On the opening night of her final season she delivered everything one could hope for in a final role; technical virtuosity, subtlety of interpretation and believability.

The Giselle of the 2015 season is Maina Gielgud's production. First performed in 1986, it hasn't been seen in Australia since 2006. As such, many of the dancers are approaching it for the first time and Gielgud has been in Australia for its staging.

The story of a trusting and innocent village girl, sent mad by the betrayal of a callous nobleman and doomed to spend eternity tormenting men who stray into the path of the Wilis, is the stuff of high Romanticism. The dancers seemed to relish the interpretative possibilities of their roles and especially the chance to show the distinct moods and stylistic shifts from the first to second act.

Madeleine Eastoe's rendering of Giselle modulated well from her joyful maiden in love in the early scenes through to her rapid decline into madness and her Act II incarnation as a Wili - the ghost of a young girl betrayed by her lover. Her dancing began with light airiness - spritely jumps and generous lilting flow.  As Eastoe's Giselle learned of Albrecht's betrayal, her demeanour became increasingly fragile,  as the intensity of the shock deepened. Her mad scene was affecting and believable, with a wild otherworldliness that prefigured her transformation into a Wili. Although it seemed to sneak up and be over in a flash, there was a nuanced building to the scene that revealed Giselle's mental disintegration. In Act II Eastoe displayed delicacy and moved between the fragile vacancy of a spirit bereft of agency and the young woman who has retained a passion for her love.

As Albrecht, Kevin Jackson was strong and convincing. He conveyed a confident charm that subtly suggested the disingenuousness of his character. Jackson's dancing was elegant and assured, and he made a good partner for Eastoe. He too, showed real detail in the characterisation of his role and restrained but directed acting. The only quibble is that the pair did not exude obvious rapport in the early moments of the first act, although this may have served to illustrate Albrecht's lack of sincerity. I was particularly impressed with Jackson's pure strong technique and wonderful entrechats.

The pairing of Reiko Hombo and Chengwu Guo in the peasant pas de deux was a delight. Their dancing conveyed energy and joy. Guo is almost flawless in his interpretive and technical execution of roles. Here his precision, power and astonishing ballon contrasted with a fluid liquidity as he transmitted a pure Romantic style. Hombo danced with a carefree lightness and beautiful elasticity in her jumps, and a wonderful warmth. This was a delightful and charismatic pairing. The highlight of the first act, they were gone too soon.

Aka Kondo as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, was perfect; commanding and fiercely cool. Her clear lines and decisive gestures were convincing of her haunting control of her domain. The Wilis were danced beautifully, and were precise, ethereal and a little scary in their detached determination.

Andrew Killian as Hilarion displayed his usual fine dancing together with a convincing portrayal of grief in Act II. An experienced Giselle herself, guest Lisa Bolte won audience approval as Giselle's mother.

The lighting design, by William Ackers and executed by Francis Croese, was both dramatic and hauntingly evanescent in the second act, allowing the Wilis their supernatural and ungraspable remoteness. Peter Farmer's set design was effective, moving as it did from a warm autumnal mood to the chill of the forest.

The Australian Ballet has struck exactly the right chord with this production of Giselle - a delight all round.


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