• Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall with members of The Australian Ballet.
    Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall with members of The Australian Ballet. Photo: JEFF BUSBY
  • Brett Chynoweth and Jade Wood in the Peasant Pas de deux
    Brett Chynoweth and Jade Wood in the Peasant Pas de deux Photo: JEFF BUSBY
  • Ako Kondo in Act 1.
    Ako Kondo in Act 1. Photo: JEFF BUSBY
  • Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall
    Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall Photo: JEFF BUSBY
  • Valerie Tereshchenko as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis.
    Valerie Tereshchenko as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Photo: JEFF BUSBY

Arts Centre Melbourne, August 30

Giselle. Not for nothing is it known in Russia as the "holy ballet". Audiences and dancers are drawn back to it again and again, drawn in by its transcendent poeticism, its endless nuances of characterization, and the revelations it promises in the hands of its interpreters.

Maina Gielgud's production of Giselle has been a well loved staple of the Australian Ballet repertoire since 1986. The sets are honestly traditional in the best sense, as are the costumes, Giselle's pale yellow dress with its brown bodice reproducing the colours of the original costume of the first Giselle (Carlotta Grisi) back in 1841.

Adam's score, a great innovation in its day with its use of leitmotifs and the fact that it was specifically composed for the ballet, is still hauntingly beautiful, and was brought to life with great musicality and subtle nuance by guest conductor Simon Hewett.

What really stood out on the night was the attention to detail, both in the acting, and in the reproduction of the Romantic style of dance. There was a sense that the dancers, from the principals right through to the villagers, all had an integral part in the unfolding drama. The attention to detail extended to attention to mime which was convincingly executed throughout. The other thing that impressed was the level of musicality the dancers had been encouraged to achieve. Underpinning it all was a belief in poetry and in beauty of feeling and image, a belief in the revelations each moment of this ballet can still bring us.

It was good to see the dancers adapting so well to the Romantic style, with its forward of centre body placement, its off centre balances elongating into horizontal lines, and the emphasis on footwork and batterie and on creating an illusion of weightlessness. Heads, upper bodies and arms were used to good effect, creating the beautifully curved silhouettes of the style.

Maina Gielgud had returned to stage Giselle so much of the merit for all of this lies with her.

Of course, any production of Giselle is ultimately about the principals, Giselle and Albrecht, and, most of all, about Giselle herself. It is an iconic role, and one that the greatest ballerinas aspire to making their own. It is down to each couple to work out the dynamics of their relationship and how it plays out in the tragedy of Giselle's death and the redemptive nature of her love. Ako Kondo invested Giselle with a certain playful modesty coupled with a fragility which extended into the second Act. There is a beautiful innocence to her love which she finds herself helpless to resist. She is unpretentious, simple and moving, staying in character throughout, even in the Act I solo which she directs entirely at Albrecht, making of it more than simply a display piece. Her hovering balances, light speed and an ethereal quality were highlights of her interpretation. Her mad scene, in which she is already touched by the otherworld, will only grow in strength of interpretation.

Hilarion, as particularly well played by Andrew Killian, is a powerful presence from the start, and an obviously attractive proposition and alternative to the Albrecht of Ty King-Wall who also gives a well rounded characterization as well as a strong dance performance. He grows from a certain callous and thoughtless superiority to a shocked remorse as the realization of what has happened hits him.

Jade Wood and Brett Chynoweth share the honours in a very attractive pairing in the Peasant Pas de deux. Jade Wood has a distinctive look and style, a lightness in her jumps and a good use of head and epaulement. Chynoweth excelled as well in his jumps and batterie and overall performance.

As the Queen of the Wilis Valerie Tereschenko certainly has the look, both imperious and impervious, with purpose in her arm gestures. Rather than soaring with elevation into the air, her jumps traverse diagonal and horizontal lines, following the trajectory of her extended front arm, menacingly pointing and commanding. The relentless ranks of the Wilis are excellently danced by the corps, while the two lead Wilis (Natasha Kusen and Rina Nemoto) sway and hover as if in a breeze.

From an interpretive point of view Act I was stronger than Act II, in which the web of attraction and magic between Giselle and Albrecht could be stronger. That said, their central pas de deux was beautiful.

Overall, this Giselle succeeds in conveying to us the floating ethereal lightness of Romantic ballet, its poetry and its soul.


Friday night cast (August 31)

David Hallberg is a superstar to Australian audiences and his visits are greatly anticipated. His status, however, is almost a disadvantage when performing a ballet of this delicacy. His first entrance brought an excited burst of applause, and before his every solo the audience anticipation heightened considerably, turning each of them into a showpiece.

But Albrecht's role doesn't have a lot of dancing, despite the story requiring it, and when Hallberg did dance, he was beautiful. He displayed all the perfection of technique that he is famous for, executing unflagging entrechat six and a glorious triple attitude turn, landing from jumps with greater softness than the sprites that tormented him, and displaying all the purity of line for which he is famous .

Purity, however, was not his character's motive in the first act. Hallberg's interpretation was of a man charmed and clearly lustful. When he attacked Hilarion for having exposed him, he was a hypocrite as well as a seducer. In the second act he was a picture of genuine contrition, a figure haunted by the consequences of his own actions, forever changed by his near death encounter with this strange inbetween world of half-human, half-spirit creatures.

 His Giselle was Leanne Stojmenov, and their partnership was a study of opposites: her innocence to his amorousness, her warmth, joy and honesty to his deceit. She brought grief and disbelief to her mad scene, as if she just couldn’t cope with the cruel truth of Albrecht’s behaviour.  In the second act, the illusion this ballet creates of weightlessness is dependent on an absolute togetherness of partnering, but while Hallberg managed the lifts with relative ease, together they didn’t quite breathe as one.

Amy Harris, as Myrtha, danced with the requisite sharpness of line and coldness of heart, while Jade Wood and Benedicte Bemet were lovely Leading Wilis. Bemet also danced the Peasant Pas de deux with Shaun Andrews: both meeting the technical demands with ease.


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