Giselle – Ballet’s Greatest Tragedy
After a three-year hiatus from the stage, Joburg Ballet’s production of Giselle returns for a 10 show season at Joburg Theatre. Giselle is a ballet in two acts which takes place in 17th Century Rhineland, West Germany:
Giselle, a peasant girl, unabashedly falls in love with Count Albrecht. He disrobes the cloak and sword which identify him as nobility, and begins a love affair with Giselle, tricking her into believing that he is a villager named Loys. Despite warnings from her mother and Hilarion, a local forester who is in love with her, Giselle trusts that Loys will be honest and true.
Count Albrecht’s true identity is revealed by Hilarion during the village spring festivities. He discovers Albrecht’s cloak and sword, which match the noble insignia on a hunting horn belonging to the Duke of Courland and his daughter, Bathilde, Albrecht’s betrothed. Giselle is shattered by the betrayal and she descends into madness, dying of a broken heart.
The second act of the ballet sees Giselle awoken from her grave by the haunting Wilis, a ghostly group of young women jilted by men, who have died before their wedding day. The Wilis avenge their sorrows by dancing any man they come across during the hours of darkness in the Rhineland forest to death. Myrthe, their queen, is relentless in her damnation of male kind. She initiates Giselle into the Wilis rites, shortly before Albrecht enters to visit her unhallowed grave. Giselle appears to Albrecht as if in a dream. Meanwhile, the Wilis hunt down Hilarion, dancing him into exhaustion and driving him to his death in the lake.
Giselle does everything in her power to protect Albrecht from Myrthe’s wrath. However, she is overcome by Mythre’s control over her and he is drawn into the dance. Giselle attempts to sustain him through the night, but he grows weaker by the minute. Just as Albrecht’s death seems final, dawn breaks and the Wilis disappear. Giselle fades away with them and the Count is left alone to grieve.
I distinctly remember the first occasion I saw Joburg Ballet perform Giselle. I was eleven and totally taken aback by the beauty and complexity of the story. The ultimate romance, Giselle is my favourite ballet.
Not wishing to lace this review with bias, I stepped into Joburg Theatre without expectations. I hoped to see Giselle in a new light, with the eyes of a critic. I readied myself to analyse and examine all aspects of Joburg Ballet’s production. But as soon as the curtains opened, I lost sense of myself, being swept up into the story and performance. Bringing to life the Rhineland setting, Johan Engels’ set design, partnered with exquisite lighting from Simon King, set the stage for a magical experience.
French-born principal dancer, Anaïs Chalendard is the consummate ballerina – petite, graceful and passionate. Her presence as Giselle immediately dominated the stage, as she stepped out in a sweet blue frock crafted by Joburg Ballet costumier, Yolanda Roos. Standing out starkly from the corps de ballet dressed in earthy browns and umber, Chalendard’s Giselle was full of innocence and light. Upon Giselle’s betrayal, Chalendard launched into madness with ease. Her performance of Giselle’s ghost truly endeared her to the audience. Weightless and melancholic, she drifted about the stage in a wisp. Receiving rapturous applause at curtain call, it was an utter treat to see Chalendard give this performance.
Joburg Ballet soloist, Leusson Muniz took on the role of Count Albrecht with all the grace and composure of a professional dancer at his peak. I saw Muniz perform earlier this year in Joburg Ballet’s Unbound. As such, his skill and execution of the lifts, turns and strenuous solos demanded by Giselle did not surprise me. However, the emotional quality of his dancing surpassed the level usually seen in male soloist performances. From the joys of young love, to the grief of Giselle’s untimely death, Muniz delivered a perfect Count Albrecht.
Lastly, but certainly not least, Claudio Monja made the ideal Queen of the Wilis. Her stark expressions conveyed all the meaning needed, creating conflict and rising tension. Her near defeat by the rise of dawn came as a welcomed resolution. Congratulations on being so convincingly wicked.
Corps de Charm
I must give a special mention to the corps de ballet. Their energy was delightful, bringing such character to the production. Opening court scenes can be lengthy and tiresome, but thanks to the personality of these dancers, time whiled itself away all too quickly. The junior dancers from Joburg Ballet School similarly left the audience chuckling and gushing over their cuteness. It was a pity that these little dancers-in-the-making did not come out onto stage at the applause to receive their moment in the spotlight. High fives to all of you!
The only niggle I pinpointed by the corps de ballet’s performance came in Act II. As the Wilis glide over the marsh, there should be little sound from the dancer’s heels hitting the stage floor. The clanking of their pointe shoes distracted from the eeriness of this scene. However, understanding how difficult this movement is, they can be easily forgiven.
Overall, Joburg Ballet’s Giselle was a sensational delight. I highly recommend that you see it before the season ends on Sunday, 13 October 2019.
Book your tickets here.
Things To Come
Joburg Ballet’s artistic director, Ian MacDonald, shared some exciting news with the audience on opening night – March 2020 will see Joburg Theatre’s Mandela Stage set alight with fiery passion in Don Quixote. But, that’s not all. Joburg Ballet welcomes two of the world’s greatest international dancers, Marianela Nuñes and Vadim Muntagirov, as their stars for the season! These principals of the Royal Ballet are a sight to behold, so be sure to book your early bird tickets.
Sadly, Joburg Ballet also announced the professional retirement of both Anaïs Chalendard and seasoned principal Nicole Ferreira-Dill, who has performed in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty among many others. Ms Ferreria-Dill has performed with Joburg Ballet for the past 13 years, and will be sadly missed.
For More Information
Visit Joburg Ballet’s website for more information – joburgballet.com
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