ROYAL NEW ZEALAND BALLET
Choreography: Ethan Stiefel and Johan Kobborg
Costume Design: Natalia Stewart
Scenic Design: Howard C Jones
Lighting Design: Kendall Smith
AUCKLAND PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA
Conductor: Marc Taddei
Composer: Adolphe Adam
The artists of the Royal New Zealand Ballet received rapturous and well-deserved applause following the opening of Giselle in Auckland. Ethan Stiefel and Johan Kobborg’s production of the romantic ballet premiered in 2012, and has become a signature work for the company, supported by the 2013 feature film Giselle directed by New Zealander Toa Fraser. The production has gone from strength to strength, with the current season featuring the talents of guest artists Qi Huan and Daniel Gaudiello.
Giselle’s design and staging is absolutely beautiful. Howard C Jones’ layering of scenery, coupled with a balance of stylisation and visual detail create an ethereal and rich set for the ballet to unfold in. Between acts, ghostly tree roots are brought to life with an elegant combination of painting and moving projection; the effect is haunting and drew admiring comments from the audience. Natalia Stewart’s delicious palette of autumnal colour in Act I compliments Jones’ scenery perfectly, and the crisp romantic tutus in the white act provide a glorious ethereal contrast.
This season of Giselle boasts a live orchestra in each of the main centres; in Auckland the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Marc Taddei is rich and vibrant. For a ballet composed in the key of tragedy, such as Giselle, the depth of feeling from live music of this calibre is essential.
Lucy Green as Giselle is at the top of her game. Her sustained balance en pointe and control through the ballet’s demanding and well-known solo variations demonstrated the remarkable skill and athleticism required of a principal dancer cast in a role of this significance. An element of Green’s performance that greatly exceeded my expectations was the authenticity of the blossoming romance between Giselle and Albrecht, danced by Qi Huan, on opening night. The couple’s love story was detailed and authentic, and the attention these two performers gave to their characters in Act I effectively supported the extremely physical work to follow in Act II.
The return of Huan as Albrecht is a treat for audiences, and not to be missed by fans of the ballet. His character development in this performance was at its most impressive, and enhanced his physical presence rather than being overshadowed by it. Huan’s elevation remains breathtaking; every moment of grande allegro delivered with that effervescent quality of ballon that makes each leap sparkle. Albrecht’s famous entrechat sixes in Act II (added by Nureyev to feature his virtuosity in the air, according to ballet legend) were fantastically elevated and cleanly landed by Huan.
Mayu Tanigaito continues to present herself as a rising star of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. As Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, she is the perfect villain; wicked, cold, deadly in her precision. Tanigaito’s opening courous show phenomenal speed and dexterity, and her impressive elevation belies her petite stature. Jacon Chown delivers an equally assured and detailed performance as Hilarion, projecting a strong masculine energy and powerful solo work.
Act I provides excellent corps de ballet work, with a tangible sense of energy during Giselle’s infamous mad scene. The Wilis in Act II were effectively faultless, and danced with speed, grace and the dark elegance the roles demand. A slightly unusual pairing of Bronte Kelly and Joseph Skelton as the Wedding Couple was the only aspect of the ballet that seemed imperfectly considered.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Giselle is a gem of a production, and absolutely worth seeing again for admirers of romantic era ballet.
cred: Bill Cooper