Review: West Australian Ballet, Giselle ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 14 September ·
Review by Nina Levy ·
When it comes to ballet, Giselle is my guilty pleasure.
First performed in 1841, the ballet’s plot is not one you’ll find in “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls”. In a pre-industrial German village, peasant girl Giselle has fallen for Albrecht. He’s actually a duke, but in order to win Giselle, he has disguised himself as a villager. Oh yeah, and he’s also engaged to someone else. When Giselle discovers that she has been two-timed by her so-called fiancé, she “loses her reason” and dies of a broken heart.
And so to Act II, in which Giselle has become one of the Wilis, the ghosts of women who have been betrayed by their lovers. When the vengeful Wilis encounter Albrecht they try to dance him to death – because powerful women must, of course, be evil. But Giselle’s love protects Albrecht until dawn, when the Wilis must return to wherever it is they go during daylight hours.
Of course, this story is risible when read from a feminist perspective but I confess I agree with West Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella when he describes the ballet as “one of the most beautiful Romantic ballets of all time.” The contrast between the sweet innocence of Act I and the chilling spectre that is Act II, with the famous “mad scene” at its temporal and emotional centre, never fails to entice me.
Following in the footsteps of Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot (to whom the 1841 choreography is attributed), WAB’s 2019 season does not disappoint.
On Saturday night, Alexa Tuzil, as Giselle, and Juan Carlos Osma, as Albrecht, won the audience over from the outset. With her large eyes and beguiling expression, Tuzil’s Giselle seems heart-breakingly young and innocent in Act I. Osma’s Albrecht approaches Giselle with the awkward enthusiasm of adolescence. His interpretation humanises Albrecht’s deception – he’s not cruel, just young, impulsive… and making a huge mistake. The pair have a sparkling chemistry and technically they’re lovely to watch, whetting our appetite for what’s to come.
Concluding Act I, Giselle’s “mad scene” is renowned as a test of the mettle of any dancer playing the lead role, and Tuzil passes it with aplomb as she oscillates between teary recollection and wild-eyed disbelief.
Also noteworthy in this act were Candice Adea and Julio Blanes, whose deftly performed Peasant Pas de Deux drew appreciative murmurs in the dress circle on Saturday, in spite of almost being upstaged by a couple of delightful dogs. As the love-lorn Hilarion, Christian Luck kept us wavering between pity and scorn. And the corps de ballet performed with exuberance, the womens’ crisp entrechat series and the men’s exciting tours en lair two highlights.
Though this production is not new to Perth – it was first performed in 2014 – I was struck anew by the almost subterranean gloom of the forest as the curtain rose on Act II. Lit by Jon Buswell, Peter Cazalet’s forest is framed by ragged leaves, its floor awash with mist; otherworldly and gorgeously dark.
Here we encounter the Wilis. Again, the dancers of the corps are to be commended; wild yet strangely formal, they’re a maelstrom of ghostly white. As Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, Glenda Garcia Gomez didn’t quite reach the ice-queen heights of some renditions I’ve seen, but she was appropriately stern with steely technique to match. Lead wilis Mayume Noguromi and Dayana Hardy Acuña followed suit, topped with port de bras so airy it teetered on insouciance.
But the act belonged to Tuzil and Osma. Her sublime developpes, promenades and penches were deftly supported by him, at times with just one hand. Osma may play Albrecht as a youngster but he is a mature and assured partner. Meanwhile Tuzil, still a member of the corps de ballet, gave a performance that belied her youth, emotionally charged and technically assured. Both individually and as a pair, the two are outstanding in their roles.
The season is expertly accompanied by West Australian Symphony Orchestra who capture the piquancy and poignancy of Adolphe Adam’s score under the baton of Jessica Gethin. Though probably unintentional, the introduction of the charismatic Gethin – a passionate advocate for addressing the gender imbalance amongst classical music leaders – as a WAB collaborator offset my feminist concerns somewhat.
Choreographers Aurelien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle are to be congratulated on this production. Whether you’re a Giselle aficionado or a newbie to this ballet, WAB’s latest offering is well worth the ticket price.
Pictured top: Alexa Tuzil as Giselle and Juan Carlos Osma as Albrecht, in Act II. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.