Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide.
Reviewed: November 27
In picking which work to feature in his last season at the helm of ADT, Garry Stewart had an embarrassment of riches to choose from. From his first work for the company, Birdbrain, an enormous world-wide success back in 2000, to his most recent, Supernature, which premiered at the Adelaide Festival this year, he has created over 20 works that have indelibly altered the Australian dance landscape, many touring to international acclaim. It can’t have been an easy choice, but G, created for the 2008 Adelaide Festival, fitted the bill perfectly. At the Saturday night gala I attended, the company danced it as if they were – like the victims of Giselle’s Willis – dancing unto their very deaths.
As this suggests, G stands for Giselle: this work, like its predecessor Birdbrain, is a postmodern deconstruction of one of the iconic works in the classical repertoire. Like Birdbrain, it incorporates text that free associates on the themes and plot of the work, which in this case flickers across a large LED screen at the rear of the stage. To snatches of Adolphe Adam’s score for Giselle, the dancers repeatedly cross the green-washed stage from left to right in pas marché, Gaelle Mellis’s costumes adding a striking note of colour, with the women in vivid green tulle see through tutus, the men in similarly coloured tracksuit pants and jackets. On the screen, the letter G morphs into Giselle, to be replaced by the other characters’ names: Albrecht, Loys, Hilarion, Bathilde, Myrthe. Phrases and words replace each other with dazzling rapidity: "Giselle loves to dance," "I am frightened," and so forth.
All the while, as the ballet music is replaced by Luke Smiles’s pounding electronic score, the dancers rapidly traverse a narrow band of the stage from left to right, bathed in Geoff Cobham’s intensely coloured lighting, which morphs from green to yellow, blue and red as the action intensifies. Rather than reproducing the narrative, Stewart’s choreography plays with motifs from the original ballet, incorporating almost incredibly long sequences of fast pas de bourrée, Myrthe’s resolute crossing of the wrists to signify death, and passages from the Act 1 pas de deux and the mad scene. However, what starts as a pas de Basque or temps levé transmutes into an explosive jetés or tumble, the dancers ricocheting into and leaping over each other, colliding and collapsing, sometimes moving briefly against the relentless left to right tide.
The thematic subtexts of the original are brought to the forefront, with each member of the cast in turn embodying sexual repression, hysteria, and fantasies of revenge, making use of Giselle’s signature props: an aristocratic crown, Albrecht’s sword, and the bunch of lilies that he brings to Giselle’s grave. The roles of the original are similarly redistributed across gender lines, with both men and women enacting deception, madness and lust with increasing intensity, culminating in scenes of dark and frenetic energy.
On the night of the Gala, the company gave a performance of such emotional power and technical virtuosity, it was almost unbelievable that they had the energy to take a bow; the long, standing ovation at the end was an acknowledgement that they had given it their all. Premier Stephen Marshall – a strong supporter of the company – then took to the stage to congratulate Stewart on his achievements as artistic director. This was followed by emotional speeches by long standing company member Daniel Jaber, cruelly prevented by injury from dancing in the season, and Sarah-Jayne Howard, one of Stewart’s original dancers and now associate artistic director, who spoke movingly of what working with Stewart has meant for them both professionally and personally.
Finally, Stewart took the microphone, recounting his earliest days with the company and thanking all the dancers, collaborators, staff and supporters who have sustained him during a remarkable 22 years. It truly felt like the end of an era, with a staggering performance of a brilliant work hammering home to everyone present just what an incredible legacy Stewart leaves behind: believe me when I say there was a lot of emotion in the room!
Thank you, Garry Stewart.
– MAGGIE TONKIN
Photos of 'G' above are by Sam Roberts Photography.