The TelstraClear Season of Giselle
Royal New Zealand Ballet
Dates: Christchurch, CBS Arena (Nov 15-17); Invercargill, Civic Theatre (Nov 20-21); Dunedin, Regent Theatre (Nov 24-25); Auckland, ASB Theatre (Nov 29 - 2 Dec 2); Rotorua, Civic Theatre (Dec 5); Napier, Municipal Theatre (Dec 8-9) and Palmerston North – Regent on Broadway (Dec 12).
The Royal New Zealand Ballet's latest production of Giselle proves the company is now as good as any overseas ballet.
This is probably because of a number of factors. There is a new artistic director, Ethan Stiefel, and this is his first production of a full classical ballet. He is also co producing it with major dancer and choreographer Johan Kobborg, who is with the Royal Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet.
In the lead is Gillian Murphy, one of the principal ballerinas with the American Ballet Theatre, as well principal guest artist with the RNZB. Another of the leads is Aucklander Andrew Bowman, who has been working in Europe for more than 15 years.
Having a team of top international dancers and choreographers seems to have given a new dynamism, sense of growth and maturity to the company.
The principals are outstanding, dancing with elegance and virtuosity, the corps de ballet shows flair and skill and the two co-producers have created an intelligent and finely resolved work with clear narratives.
Giselle, a peasant girl, kills herself on discovering that her lover Albrecht, who is a prince in disguise, has deceived her as he is already betrothed. In the second act she rises from her grave and is commanded by the Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, to dance Albrecht to his death.
She dances with him, interceding with Myrtha to spare him. She achieves her aim, his life is spared and she returns to the grave. The ballet is bookended by the aged Albrecht returning to Giselle’s gave to mourn for her and himself.
The Willis are female spiritual avengers – women who have died because they have been rejected and who now take their revenge on wayward males. This aspect of their supernatural power is a romantic concept of a parallel world reflecting the dual nature of the human condition.
The role of Giselle requires a dancer to display a range of emotional states: the joy of youthful love, the despair and madness which comes with her rejection, through to the sweetness of the ethereal love she displays beyond the grave.
Gillian Murphy gave a staggering performance as the doomed young woman, providing an enchanting and intelligent display and conveying a real sense of character through gesture, dance and acting.
Her descent into madness at the end of act I was a superb piece of tragic acting. In addition to her dishevelled appearance, she conveyed her distress in dance. She repeats the same dainty steps she used at the start of the act, but they become sombre, slow movements at variance with the music, creating a disturbing discordance.
Qi Huan as Albrecht had an exuberant performance, with some of his solo work providing a chance to show off his effortless gravity defying leaps which often seem to go past the point of endurance.
The pair provided an exquisite pas de deux in act II which had a more sensual dimension to it than their dancing in act I, which was more like courtship dancing. She conveyed a sense of the ethereal with soft cursive movements, tentative steps and gentle turns.
While most of the time they avoided contact, when they did touch there was a frisson of tension. Unable to consummate physically or emotionally, they only connected spiritually.
Jacob Chown as rejected lover Hilarion was impressive, particularly in his dance to the death sequence in act II, where he ably made patrons aware of his growing terror and physical exhaustion.
Abigail Boyle as the impassive Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, gave a tense and icy performance, conveying a sense of power and mystery.
The corps in their role of the avenging Willis was commanding and they gave a chilling performance, looking like Nazi SS soldiers decked out in wedding veils. Their tight, disciplined movements and strong gestures of rejection provided a contrast to the fluid dancing of the principals and their own dancing in the act I village scenes.
The Vector Wellington Orchestra under conductor Michael Lloyd was in fine form, providing the dancers with an energetic and perceptive reading of the Adolphe Adam music.
John Daly-Peoples has a relative on the RNZB board