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Photo: Evan Li
Photo: Evan Li
Production - Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel
Choreography - Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel (after Marius Petipa)
Set Design - Howard Jones
Costume Design - Natalia Stewart
Lighting Design - Kendall Smith
Conductor - Michael Lloyd
The Telstra Clear Season

at Regent Theatre (Dunedin), Dunedin
From 24 Nov 2012 to 25 Nov 2012
[2.5 hours]

Reviewed by Hannah Molloy, 25 Nov 2012

Giselle was a new ballet for me and I carefully hadn't read much about the story so I arrived at the Regent Theatre with few preconceptions and lots of anticipation. I hadn't been able to help hearing the rave reviews about Gillian Murphy's performance so I was pleased to see that she was playing the lead role.

It plucked every string of emotion, from the surging gurgle of laughter and fun in the first half of the first act, to devastation as Murphy went slowly and so gracefully mad with grief and a broken heart, to an eerie chill as the Queen of the Wilis orchestrated her arctic women, the brief lightening of spirits as Giselle forgives and saves her beloved and then his own descent into despair as he gives up and hands himself over to Myrtha. I can't recall a more sinister ending to anything I've seen or read in a long time!

Watching Murphy's foot move, from flat on the floor, bending and rising to pointe and the beautiful curve of her instep took my breath away. She was exquisite to watch, and the parallels between her and Marie Taglioni, the original Sylph, as described in the programme – “style of ballet that combined great muscle strength and control ... with a sense of effortlessness, grace and femininity ... Taglioni's formidable technique served her artistry” are easily drawn.

It's not just physical technique that makes Murphy outstanding. Her protection of her beloved against the Wilis reminded me of watching a woman I know spread her arms around her children, cradling them as they absorbed the news of the death of their father, her husband. This sort of maternal and loving protective instinct expressed so apparently naturally while playing a role is something I haven't seen before.

 Qi Huan partnered Murphy beautifully. His jumps were outstanding - I lost count and still he leapt - and the passion and energy in his face, (whether due to the strain of the work or the grief of the role), and his pleasure in the audience's response to his skill were delightful.

Lucy Green is always delicious to watch and she played her two very different roles, the bride and Moyna, superbly and as did Mayu Tanigaito as Zulma. Her arms have a particularly beautiful curve. Tonia Looker and Dimitri Kleioris stood out in the village dances with their cheery sparkle, Antonia Hewitt was properly supercilious as Bathilde and Lucy Balfour's Berthe proved everyone's mother right when they say “mama knows best”...

The Wilis, as a corps, made me think of children's ballet recitals and this evolution, from nervous five year olds to creatures of such grace and perfect timing, as surely something Darwin would find intriguing. Abigail Boyle's Myrtha was cool and imperious and she had complete control over her minions and an equally complete lack of mercy. They really were baleful creatures and Hilarion stood no chance, unprotected against such a row of damning spirits.

Poor Hilarion. My guest (aged 11) and I felt that somehow he drew the very shortest straw possible – surely he is an example of a well-meaning man doing the wrong thing for the right reasons? Jacob Chown's Hilarion was sympathetic and engrossing and it really didn't seem right that the Wilis took out their angst on him – after all he didn't break poor Giselle's heart. (A clear case of cheering for the underdog! Why does the prince always get the girl, even in death?)

It occurred to me halfway through the second act that this choreography and music is seven years older than Dunedin, and more than a hundred years older than the Royal New Zealand Ballet. It means a great deal to sit and watch artists of this calibre performing a work that has truly stood the test of time. It means that our history is alive and is still being written and we, in whichever role we play, prima ballerina, audience or set designer, are privileged to be a part of it.


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