By Gemma Keliher
Queensland Ballet’s first full-length production of the year; Giselle is a tale of young love, betrayal, heartbreak and forgiveness. Staged by Ai-Gul Gaisina and promised as a Romantic ballet set under the stars, it gathered a large audience eager to once again be drawn into the magic of ballet. Sprawled on the grassy lawn at HOTA’s Outdoor Stage, I found myself wishing for the under the stars aspect of the night, as the overly bright walkway lights that flooded the lawn diminished the romanticism of a starry night sky and only served as a reminder that we were not quite back to productions as we once knew them.
Captivating, sophisticated and beautifully elegant, the standout of the night’s performance was of course, the dancers. Laura Tosar as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, was remarkable and quite frankly, perfectly cast. The powerful, Russian influenced choreography and Tosar’s technique brought such strong characterisation to the role that she commanded both the audience and Wilis alike. Her jeté-ing across the stage gave the appearance of the queen floating through the forest; her every movement light and effortless. Reminding us of who was the lead in this production, Neneka Yoshida as Giselle brought the required youthfulness to the choreography as well as the sadness and tragedy that are interwoven into her story. Her understanding of the character shone through, and it was particularly compelling to watch her physicalisations change during her death scene and throughout Act II. The gruelling scene in which Albrecht, Duke of Selesia is saved from death by Giselle was a stand out for Joel Woellner as Albrecht, in which he danced until the point of exhaustion in an excellent showcase of his stamina and technique as a dancer.
Peter Cazalet’s costumes completed the characters and, as any good costume does, complimented the choreography. Even the peasants in Act I looked lovely, and there were clear differentiations between each character and their social class, which is important for anyone previously unfamiliar with the story. The Act II costuming was breathtaking; the Wilis looking every bit of an ethereal apparition as they should. The romantic tutus moved and flowed gracefully with the dancers and the hint of draped vine linked them beautifully to the forest setting of the cemetery. Their entrance was truly a haunting image, shrouded in veils the mood was greatly assisted by a soft fog rolling underfoot and the brilliant lighting design by Ben Hughes. The Wilis, including Lead Wilis Lou Spichtig and Chiara Gonzalez, should all be commended for never letting this mystical mood dampen, and their synchronization as spirits fully drawing the audience into this magical world. The scene with D'Arcy Brazier as Hilarion succumbing to Myrtha and the Wilis powers was a particularly spell-binding bit of choreography and powerful dancing by the ensemble. The entire mood of the show was of course not complete without Adolphe Adam’s music. While it was not a live orchestra, both dancers and audience alike let themselves be carried away with every note.
The only disappointments of the evening came logistically, with the wide spread lawn causing sight issues. Anything blocked stage right was missed entirely, including Giselle’s spirit entrance while Albrecht mourns at her grave. This may have just been due to a miscommunication between HOTA and Queensland Ballet regarding the COVID safe seating plan and where key elements were staged. The bright outdoor lighting and other noise and distractions also pulled focus from the stage in Act I and the world the dancers were trying so hard to pull you into. I felt unable to connect to the characters and developing romance, perhaps also due to the construct of a 19th century romance not necessarily fitting in with our modern world beliefs, and only became emotionally invested during Giselle’s heartbreak. It could be that Act II is simply the stronger act but the otherworldly magic was enough to reconnect in it’s opening moments.
Overall, in what has been a tough year for the creatives and dancers at Queensland Ballet, it was a joy to once again become enthralled by the storytelling of a full-length ballet and share in the ethereal magic of Giselle. We can only be more grateful than ever at the tireless efforts that went into staging this performance. In having to adapt to an open air stage, the romantic and hauntingly tragic story of Giselle was an appropriate choice for this type of venue. Queensland Ballet’s originally scheduled 2020 season will appear in 2021 and I am certainly eager for their full return to the stage.