Sydney Theatre, May 16
G stands for Giselle, and this deconstruction of the iconic romantic ballet is a gripping experience from start to finish. Choreographer Garry Stewart has stripped away the sentimental pathos of the traditional Giselle in order to focus directly on the raw emotions of jealousy, anger and lust. The female dancers in particular move with an aggressively untamed physicality far more reminiscent of Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, than Giselle herself, and dominate their male counterparts throughout the work. This is more gothic horror than romanticised tragedy, with the vulnerability and descent into madness of Giselle reframed as dangerously unstable and menacing - a betrayed lover for the 21st century.
For viewers familiar with the ballet there are plenty of recognisable choreographic references, while those audience members unfamiliar with it are provided for with a synopsis of the story flashing up on a large digital screen just above the dancers. This could have been distracting but was well timed to coincide with dancers walking across the stage in a chilling unison reminiscent of Giselle, Act 2. One by one, from left to right they traversed the stage as if in a trance. This was a recurring motif that divided up the more physically demanding sections and over the course of the work these slow walks, with elegantly stretched feet and a noble bearing, became faster, rougher and more frenetic until the dancers were literally running across the stage, hurling themselves into the air and rolling out of it as they landed.
Set design (also by Stewart) is kept to a minimum, with the stage bare except for the afore-mentioned digital screen, while the lighting design, by Geoff Cobham, frequently varies and plays an important role in maximising the range and intensity of emotions expressed. Coloured filters bathe the stage in colours from fluorescent green, stark white, cool blue and dark red to a warm, glowing orange while overhead lights show the dancers and their shadows moving together in a strange kind of duet. And an electronic score composed by Luke Smiles, combined with a few minutes of Adolphe Adam’s traditional orchestral score for Giselle, Act 2, successfully intensifies the drama.
ADT’s cast of 11 dancers embody the intense emotions experienced by different characters at certain points but do not represent specific characters or attempt to retell the story in narrative form. In this way there are no featured dancers or soloists as such but an ensemble of outstanding dancers who contribute equally and are listed as a group in the program.
G follows in the tradition of Stewart’s deconstruction of Swan Lake, Birdbrain, and is a worthy successor to it. Despite being only an hour long, the work explores some dark themes and is quite confronting at times. It is very well done but not recommended for children.
-- GERALDINE HIGGINSON