‘The very essence of ballet is poetic, deriving from dreams rather than from reality.’ Theophile Gaultier creator of Giselle in 1841
Giselle is one of the oldest of the classical Romantic ballets, and is brought to the stage again in this enchanting production by the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). Following the story of the beautiful peasant girl, Giselle, driven insane by heartbreak, Giselle is not the most complex storyline, but its charm and fame lies in both the traditional choreography and captivating music, as well as its simple plot line. Giselle’s classical story was altered slightly by the RNZB’s addition of a prologue and epilogue featuring a tormented man whose memories become the traditional ballet – so when the audience watches Giselle they are supposed to bear in mind that this man is reliving these memories that have haunted him. With the potential to be an interesting concept this plot development falls flat as it does not have enough presence during the ballet to add anything to the story, bar from an extra small scene at the beginning and end.
The RNZB is internationally acknowleded for regularly pushing the boundaries in their performances of classical ballet. This staging of Giselle was no different. The set for both Act I and Act II were incredibly designed by Howard C Jones. A peasants’ home on the outskirts of the forest was brought to life for the first Act and provides the perfect platform for the gaiety of the country chorus and the scenes of romance as Giselle falls for the handsome, mannerly (disguised) Count Albrecht. The backdrop was beautifully painted with fantastic scrims coming in from the sides to create a wooded atmosphere for the dancers to enter and exit behind. Act II transformed into the creepy dark forest, that is home to the Wilis (woman died from heartbreak who haunt the woods and force any man who wanders into their midst to dance to their death). With Giselle’s grave prominently placed stage right, the audience is reminded of the more poignant atmosphere of the second act. Of special mention is the incredible curtain, which to begin with depicted an exquisitely drawn tree which when the show began had leaves falling from it, done with lighting. This, then, was raised to reveal the main show curtain which had the roots of a tree drawn on which moved in a rhythmic distressing manner with some extremely clever and stunning back projection/lighting. It was normally through this curtain that we witnessed the tormented man with the curtain acting as a slight mask on his features, perfecting his anguished character. The lighting was expertly and creatively designed by Kendall Smith.
The company themselves were technically perfect, the chorus, both male and female, were utterly in sync and the stage was always united in its movements, very rarely did one of the chorus stand out which is the aim in classical ballet. Unfortunately the male chorus was not on during the second act so did not get the appreciation from the audience at the end of the show. The chorus of enchanted Wilis were fantastic during the second act with their formations perfect and the movements they performed looking technically difficult but easily executed by them. The principals were interesting, Albrecht (Carlo Di Lanno) and Giselle (Mayu Tanigaito) are both technically demanding but also dramatically demanding – they are the characters of the ballet and they need more emotion and life than the two principals gave them in the first act. Particularly at the end with Giselle’s mad scene Tanigaito wasn’t quite convincing enough, her dancing was impeccable but she wasn’t convincing as a heartbroken woman. In addition to this the chemistry between the two was not quite there in the first act, however they both excelled in the second act – relishing in the reserved poignancy Tanigaito was far more believable as the dead Giselle protecting her beloved and Di Lanno portrayed Albrecht’s distress and fatigue well. Very good at his character portrayal was Paul Mathews as Hilarion, the rival lover. Although his dancing was less polished than the two mains, he was far more compelling throughout the ballet and the audience was far more involved in his story.
Despite this, it is an extremely beautiful production of the classic Giselle and the production is a stunning example of a classic Romantic ballet. Worth catching whilst they are on their tour, the RNZB have put on a fantastic show with some impeccable technical talent shining through from their company dancers.