Review by Gemma Keliher
Seated once again before the grand red curtain within the Playhouse, there was a buzz of anticipation for Queensland Ballet’s Giselle, finally making its way to stage after its postponement from the 2022 season due to the floods. Produced and staged by Ai-Gul Gaisina, this version successfully emphasises tradition and technique while allowing room for the dancer’s emotional interpretation, which keeps the story feeling fresh. There were many moments throughout the performance in which my mind was cast to how many audiences throughout history have experienced this story and choreography. It’s this connection throughout time that showcases the beauty of traditional ballets and there’s something special in getting to share in something that has stood the test of time.
Admittedly, Giselle is not my favourite ballet but that may come down to my own interpretation and views on the story. It centres around betrayal and heartbreak, and I find it difficult to accept the act of forgiveness in the second act. There is a divide in story and tone between the two acts, whereas Act I introduces us to the courting of peasant girl Giselle by Albrecht (a duke in disguise) and their subsequent love that ends in huge betrayal and the tragic death of Giselle, Act II brings us a more sombre tone of heartbreak, longing, and the supernatural. Such a journey means there really is something everyone can find to enjoy within the story, my personal favourite being the supernatural element of the Wilis in Act II. The only disadvantage I find of such a strong second act is the excitement to reach it while watching the first.
Story aside, the performances of the Queensland Ballet dancers were the highlight and something to be admired. Not only were they technically proficient with the choreography - I particularly enjoyed how clean and smooth the lifts were - but the characterisations and emotional performances were deep and moving and show true heart in dance. The work into character interpretation was evident and this resulted in complete clarity in the storytelling as well as some visually interesting performances. From the first effortless cape flip, Alexander Idaszak as Albrecht performed with a wonderful sense of ease and control. He had the right amount of charisma that although his character was behind the betrayal of the story, you felt his love and remorse for Giselle was genuine. The final moments of Act II where Albrecht dances until complete exhaustion was well executed, technically and emotionally, and the difficulty shouldn’t be underestimated particularly at the end of a full performance. Yanela Piñera as Giselle felt like a very different role than I had seen her in previously, and I enjoyed her transformation into the role. The control that is needed to perform Giselle’s uncontrollable dance of madness and heartbreak safely and effectively is impressive, and it was the emotional intensity that Piñera brought to the role that allowed for the tragedy to be felt at the end of Act I Georgia Swan as Bertha, Giselle’s Mother, had the challenge of communicating much of the story surrounding Giselle’s frail condition and her many fears, and while could easily be played as the one note controlling mother, from Swan’s performance you could see the fear coming from a place of love and the complicated layers of their relationship. Serena Green as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis was a poised and graceful Queen, and even in her stillness held such a presence over the stage and the Wilis. Dylan Lackey as Hilarion rounded out the main cast nicely, expressing his journey from secret love, to an act of jealousy, and mourning before his untimely death.
The strong performances were beautifully amplified by the set and costumes, based on an original design by Peter Cazalet, which were so well detailed and added to the magical feeling of peering into a land straight out of a storybook. One of my favourite visual images was the veiled Wilis emerging from the wings, being drawn into the cemetery by the Queen of the Wilis, which was a perfect example where the choreography, costuming, set, and lighting all work to create stunning visuals. Ben Hughes lighting design was an integral part to the effectiveness of these visuals and the shifting moods throughout the story. The transition from night into dawn at the finale of Act II seemed like such a subtle shift but was so effective from how natural it appeared.
It’s impossible to write about a ballet without mentioning the music, which I found very moving and wonderfully played by the Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra and conducted by Nigel Gaynor. The last few years have made me even more grateful to hear a score played by a live orchestra, and much like the dancers, beyond the technique of the musicians you could hear a love for the music that found its way into the heart of the audience.
Whether or not you many connect to the material of the story or the characters themselves, there is no denying there are many beautifully moving moments within Giselle, aided by the incredibly impressive performances of the Queensland Ballet. The standard of ballet and storytelling that Queensland Ballet has been producing has been consistently high and Giselle is another example of the magic that a night at the ballet can provide.