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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 Aotea Centre at THE EDGEŽ, Auckland
From 29 Nov 2012 to 2 Dec 2012
[2.5 hours]

Reviewed by Rosemary Martin, 30 Nov 2012

Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel's production of Giselle is a stunning success. It is tailor made to suit the Royal New Zealand Ballet, yet adheres to the key elements that make Giselle an ‘epic' ballet. From the outset it is clear that it is all going to end tragically. We know that Giselle is going to go mad, we know that broken hearts are inevitable. Yet as the opening bars of the overture from the Auckland Philharmonia (led marvellously by Michael Lloyd) fill the auditorium, there is a sense of hope that this time it might be different, this time Giselle and Albrecht, rather than becoming doomed lovers, might get to live happily ever after. This sense of hope is all the more believable when portrayed by such a fine group of principal dancers.

After a brief prologue introducing the character of an ‘Older Albrecht' reflecting on his lost love, act one depicts a picturesque Rhineland during harvest. Albrecht (Andrew Bowman) and his sidekick Wilfrid (danced earnestly by Jacob Chown) enter with buoyancy and youthfulness. Andrew Bowman, a Kiwi expat, makes a magnificent homecoming in the role of Albrecht. A total ballet babe, he is handsome, gentlemanly and considered in every detail of his portrayal. He charms us in act one, and enthrals us in act two. The Royal Danish Ballet influence is clear in his polished technique; with a series of beats in act two so exquisitely beautiful it was hard not to squeal with delight.

Giselle, danced by Antonia Hewitt, soon makes an appearance. Hewitt dances the role of Giselle with fragility and picture book perfection. While seeming a little nervous in her act one solo, by the mad scene she had convinced us of her character. In the midst of going mad she is momentarily perfectly still, sitting in the middle of the stage, hair loose and eyes glazed, her pain and aching heart become all very real – a wonderful dramatic interpretation. In act two, Hewitt really settles into the role. Technically superb, she gives an entrance in the opening of this act that is breath taking.
In act one Hewitt and Bowman clearly establish a tender playfulness in their relationship. They offer subtle reflections of timid first love, seeming almost oblivious to the joyful dancing peasants around them until they are enticed in to join the celebrations of the wedding couple, danced beautifully by Lucy Green and Kohei Iwamoto. Dimitri Kleioris makes his presence felt in act one as the suave Hilarion. Kleioris totally becomes the character, giving a very honest performance, accompanied by astoundingly assured technique. It is Hilarion who initiates the downward spiral, revealing the true identity of Albrecht (a Lord who is engaged to someone else), which in turn leads Giselle to her death.

The second act opens to the scene of a moonlit glade, and Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis (Lucy Balfour) bourrées furiously across the stage. Mrytha's accomplices Moyna and Zulma (danced by Clytie Campbell and Ginny Gan respectively) join her, closely followed by an army of Wilis - supernatural beings jilted before their wedding day, now seeking revenge by luring young men to their death by dancing. Lucy Balfour's interpretation of Myrtha is ice cold, callous and calculating, she forgives no one, particularly male ballet dancers. She commands the space with a sense of breadth and maturity that is so satisfying to see. With assured technique, she flies around the stage with a series of saut de basques, finding just the right balance between power and reticent grace.

The corps de ballet in act two have a hard job – demanding technique, lengthy balances in arabesque, veils, bourrées forever, all while achieving perfect lines and looking completely calm and aloof. Despite the obvious youth within the ranks, they deal with it all very well.

Hilarion makes the mistake of visiting Giselle's grave and he succumbs to the Wilis powers, dancing to exhaustion before being thrown into the lake. Soon Albrecht arrives and there is the sense of fear that he will meet the same fate, however, Giselle steps in. Hewitt and Bowman dance an exquisite act two pas de deux, controlled technically yet emotively powerful. The vengeful sisterhood of the Wilis seem almost repulsed at the couple's affection towards each other, glaring cruelly and turning their backs wherever possible. Myrtha steps in and demands Albrecht dance – and we all know where this is going. Just when it looks like it might be the end for Albrecht, dawn breaks and the Wilis' power subsides. The final moments of act two have Hewitt and Bowman parting, a painful and sombre goodbye. The epilogue returns to the Older Albrecht, consumed by grief and guilt. While the inclusion of the Older Albrecht adds another layer to the narrative, it is perhaps a little under-developed in how it might offer a sense of reflection on events past and sit along side the traditional storyline. The Older Albrecht returns to Giselle's grave and a swarm of Wilis enter with slow methodical steps. The curtain falls.

Bravo. This version of Giselle is a truly magnificent production, capturing the romance and the tragedy of the story brilliantly. It only reiterates that we do really have a world-class ballet company right here in New Zealand.

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