Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall in 'Giselle' Act I. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Giselle. The Australian Ballet (2018)

30 & 31 August 2018, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

Maina Gielgud’s Giselle, brought back once more by the Australian Ballet for a Melbourne only season, began beautifully—so beautifully that it gave me goose bumps. Small groups of villagers moved across the stage, interacting with each other, laughing and joking, while Orchestra Victoria, masterfully led by Simon Hewett, put us in the mood for what was to follow. It all seemed beautifully real rather than staged and distant.  Much of this kind of interaction continued throughout with only a few moments where everyone stood around in a semi-circle of inactivity.

The opening night cast of Ako Kondo as Giselle and Ty King-Wall as Albrecht left me a little cold, although Kondo, who always dances superbly, was charmingly shy, perhaps even naive about what was happening to her. She needed a stronger Albrecht to give extra meaning to her portrayal. It takes two for the nature of any relationship to be seen and understood by an audience.

Andrew Killian did a sterling job as Hilarion and Lisa Bolte played Berthe as a motherly figure consumed by domesticity. I have, however, always imagined Berthe as a somewhat more feisty character, who is respectful towards the Duke (Steven Heathcote), Bathilde (Alice Topp) and their entourage, but who doesn’t behave obsequiously towards them. Perhaps the Duke was Giselle’s father? (This was an interpretation in the mind of Laurel Martyn and others and influences how Berthe encounters and interacts with the Duke and his party).

But the real stars of Act I on opening night were Brett Chynoweth and Jade Wood who danced the Peasant pas de deux. Chynoweth in particular danced spectacularly well with beautiful control and great placement at the end of those airborne tours. It was wonderful to watch him, too, when Wood was dancing her variations. There he was going from friend to friend telling them all how wonderful she was.

Brett Chynoweth, and Jade Wood in the Peasant pas de deux, 'Giselle' Act I. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Brett Chynoweth and Jade Wood in the Peasant pas de deux, Giselle Act I. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

The mad scene was adequate, but that’s about it.

Act II on opening night also began beautifully with visions of Wilis appearing in the mist as Hilarion ran through the forest in search of Giselle’s grave. But I didn’t feel moved as events unfolded, due perhaps to an ongoing lack of strength in the relationship between Giselle and Albrecht. Valerie Tereshchenko as Myrtha had a fierce look on her face but her gestures and the way she attacked the choreography didn’t quite match the facial expression, which also lessened the emotional impact one expects from Act II.

Ako Kondo, Ty King-Wall, and Valerie Tereshchenko in 'Giselle' Act II. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Ty King-Wall, Ako Kondo and Valerie Tereshcheko, Giselle Act II. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

I was lucky, however, to be at the second performance in which Leanne Stojmenov as Giselle danced with David Hallberg as Albrecht. Act II this time was the stronger of the two acts, although it was interesting to see Stojmenov’s reading of Giselle in Act I as a somewhat less naive character, a little coy at times but certainly in it (to start with anyway) for the ride. This of course made her collapse, when she realised she had been betrayed, much stronger.

Hallberg and Stojmenov gave a moving performance in Act II. She had the right ethereal, supernatural touch, he could plead for mercy from Myrtha and make us feel for him. Their central pas de deux unfolded slowly and exquisitely before our eyes. Hallberg’s solo of entrechats six was spectacular from a technical point of view and yet he managed not to look like he was dancing in an eisteddfod. At last I felt emotionally involved, even from a distance since I was sitting in the gallery (aka the gods of former times). Amy Harris as Myrtha in this cast was forceful in her gestures and body language as a whole, and so she drove the action along nicely.

I often wonder to what extent the dancers of the Australian Ballet think about the nature of the characters they are portraying in ballets like Giselle. Do they wonder what goes on inside the minds of those characters? Do they wonder what kind of existence the characters might have beyond the immediate story? And so on. And do they then consider how to encapsulate that character in movement?

But there was a lot beyond interpretation of characters to admire about this production. The corps de ballet in Act I, for example, appeared to have had someone working with them on the use of head, arms and upper body. Fluidity of movement was thus more noticeable than usual. I also admired Hewett’s leadership of Orchestra Victoria. I felt I was listening not to a concert performance of the Adolphe Adam score, but to music to accompany the story as it was unfolding onstage. It was also an experience to sit high up in the auditorium. Apart from the fact that Stojmenov and Hallberg were able to project emotion the way they did right up into the gods, I have never been so aware before of the spatial patterns of the choreography for the corps de ballet.

To finish, there were two interesting happenings with regard to curtain calls. On opening night, minor principals who only appear in Act I joined the cast of Act II for a curtain call—not a usual occurrence. Then, following the second night’s performance, as Stojmenov and Hallberg moved downstage to take another bow together, the cast of Wilis behind them broke into applause—now that’s an accolade.

Michelle Potter, 1 September 2018

Featured mage: Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall in Giselle Act I. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall in 'Giselle' Act I. Photo: © Jeff Busby

5 thoughts on “Giselle. The Australian Ballet (2018)

  1. Oh hi fellow Hallberg/Stojmenov audience member! He was such a generous partner (his feet are so beautiful, no wonder he didn’t wear the boots in Act I) and she was so great, especially on début (was pregnant for 2015 Sydney season). I felt Amy Harris (much-delayed début as Myrtha, due to IIRC glandular in 2008 and also pregnancy in 2015) more involved in her character than some other TAB Myrthas I could name – Michela Kirkaldie still my TAB benchmark though. Amanda McGuigan on Saturday night was a really believable Myrtha.

    It’s a bit annoying that the company doesn’t mark role débuts in the cast sheets any more, audience members have no way of knowing unless they actually know, if you know what I mean!

    “It was also an experience to sit high up in the auditorium. Apart from the fact the Stojmenov and Hallberg were able to project emotion the way they did right up into the gods, I have never been so aware before of the spatial patterns of the choreography for the corps de ballet.”

    This. Michelle, you need to see Stephen Baynes’ Swan Lake from high up, too. The white acts’ patterns are gorgeous.

    “I often wonder to what extent the dancers of the Australian Ballet think about the nature of the characters they are portraying in ballets like Giselle. Do they wonder what goes on inside the minds of those characters? Do they wonder what kind of existence the characters might have beyond the immediate story? And so on. And do they then consider how to encapsulate that character in movement?”

    I know a large number of them do, or so they tell me. I remember when they were just starting work on the Murphy R&J several of the potential leads (who’d never danced any version of R&J) did quite a lot of reading and thinking. Also, as I understand it, Maina Gielgud’s coaching encourages that kind of thinking.

    You mention Brett Chynoweth on opening night, what did you think of Benedicte Bemet and Shaun Andrews in the peasant pas? Having seen both Friday and Saturday nights, one from row P of the stalls, the other row H, Andrews was the only dancer of whom I can say “all his landings were soundless” (and Friday was his first, too). No super elevation, but nice clean lightly bouncy jumps – as seen by Chynoweth on previous occasions – think I’d like to see him in some Bournonville…

    Fun fact from Saturday night – Adam Bull claims to have “old knees” incompatible with successful entrechats, so we were treated to the alternative – brisés volés – which I’d never actually seen live. In fact it does make Albrecht go all over the place and be legit exhausted.

    Now looking forward to a sneaky matinée for Dimity Azoury and Callum Linnane. Hoping to see some alternative Lead Wilis, as I got the same pair on both Friday and Saturday.

  2. Hi Anna, always good to hear your comments. Yes, it is annoying that debut performances aren’t noted. I didn’t know that Stojmenov and Harris were making their debut as Giselle and Myrtha resepectively. Given that, I am even more impressed. As for Myrtha, I did see Amanda McGuigan in 2015 and looking back I said she was ‘cold and haughty.’ Appropriate! I have always enjoyed her performances.

    When I was just a young ballet student (a long time ago) I used almost always to sit in the gods – it was affordable. I bought a ticket for the Friday night show (as opposed to having a house seat on opening night) and all that was available that wasn’t on the side was the front row of the gallery (balcony).so that’s what I bought. Apart from the spatial patterns, it was also interesting to see how the peasants’ skirts swirled out making circular patterns themselves. It’s good sometimes to move around the theatre.

    Re Bemet and Andrews in the Peasant pas, I quite enjoyed their performance but it didn’t grab me the way that of Chynoweth and Wood did. But I agree that Andrews would be interesting to watch in a Bournonville piece.

    I simply can’t imagine Albrecht executing brisés volés instead of entrechats! But I saw Jones and Bull in Canberra in 2015. They made a terrific partnership I thought and Bull’s knees must have been younger then. As far as I remember he did the entrechats.

    I would love to see Dimity Azoury and Callum Linnane. Maina asked me if I was going to be in Melbourne still on Wednesday (I’m not), so I get the impression that the Wednesday show could be something to watch.

  3. Thank you Michelle. Wish I’d known you were there Friday night, I would have looked out and we might have met up … except I was with my brother (our joint subscription), and we met up with a friend of mine and her mother … and there were photos of my brother’s recent I Got Engaged In Paris sojourn in Europe to marvel over (he took A LOT of photos, way more than me last year!).

    Ahhahaha Maina’s spruiking them! She chose them and put them together, so … I have enjoyed watching Azoury over the last few years: she seemed to gain enormous confidence from her ballet dancer award win, and as for Linnane … he has so much potential and it seems to be being carefully fostered … we will be lucky as an audience to have him for more than a couple of years, he could go anywhere, what with Neumeier, Wheeldon, and Gielgud’s positive opinions.

    Oh, and Bemet and Andrews were also on debut as a partnership, he hasn’t danced with her before at all, and it was his first PPDD – she had done it in 2015.

    All I said to Maina was, very heartfelt, “Madame, thank you for the corps!” and she laughed.

    The brisés volés, the only time I’ve seen them otherwise is in the Baryshnikov/Makarova ABT 1977 film, also Baryshnikov in The Turning Point, and I’ve read that Angel Corella used to do them.

    Seeing the spatial patterns from the balcony used to be one of my favourite things, but now that all the circle except the very sides is either Premium or A Reserve, and even the balcony front row is A Reserve, and B Reserve is around $175 …

  4. Linnane was a heedless young man who grew up in about two seconds flat, and Azoury will be able to use the role as a ticket to guesting anywhere she wants (sad it’s such a short season and she only gets two goes at it). He’s a partner in the tradition of Hallberg and Curran – generous and classy.

    Mason Lovegrove danced peasant PDD with Dana Stephenson and I had such fun watching him – he kept blowing her kisses, and was so obviously showing off how happy and lucky he felt to be with her to all the other villagers, it was delightful.

    TAB’s Giselle: Youngest Village In Mittel-Europe. Even Jake Mangakahia’s Hilarion is as young as the rest of them. It’s really weird having Berthe as the only adult around. Would it kill them to add a few supernumerary adults and children?

  5. I am envious!

    But your comment about having older people in Act I is interesting. I still have such fond memories of Sylvie Guillem’s Giselle, which she did for the Finns some time ago and which I was lucky enough to see. I can’t remember now whether she had older people in her cast but the population of that village was a motley lot and it made a lot of sense. I will check out the review I wrote and see what I mentioned. It didn’t get great reviews from people like Clement Crisp but I loved it.

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