Kicking off, or should that be leaping into, a year dominated by story ballets the Australian Ballet certainly won hearts with the opening night performance of Giselle. This was a traditional production, complete with autumnal colours in the first act for the set and peasant costumes, and ethereal drifting tutus for the Wilis in the second.
On opening night we were fortunate in seeing principal artists Madeleine Eastoe in the title role, and Kevin Jackson as Count Albrecht. There was great applause as Eastoe came on stage, following the recent announcement that she will retire in July. It may have seemed a surprising piece of casting for a dancer who is about to retire (although aged only 36) to play the young, innocent and vulnerable Giselle. But those who know Eastoe’s dancing realised this was a no-risk decision. She danced with such simplicity, freshness and grace that the question of age was simply not an issue throughout the performance. Jackson, himself a veteran, supported her beautifully, a fine dancer in his own right and the perfect partner especially in the second half.
Andrew Killian made a more than credible Hilarion, the other contender for Giselle’s affection, and the peasant pas de deux was brilliantly executed by Reiko Hombo and Chengwu Guo (who was to be Albrecht the following night). Their suite of dances were energetic, graceful and always watchable, giving the pair far more importance than just being the dancers who allowed Giselle a bit of a breather. Not that she didn’t need it! Petipa’s choreography calls for pointe work that still gives the illusion that the dancer is drifting across the stage, or even backwards. The audience is left wondering at such technical prowess married with apparent ease.
This ballet is, of course, also an ensemble piece, and not everyone can personally be given the credit they deserve. The first Act was notable for the energy of the corps dancing, and the dramatic consciousness that was shown by all. In the second, the “line” of the Wilis – and the arabesques of their Queen (Ako Kondo) deserved applause.
Orchestra Victoria, under the baton of Nicolette Fraillon, music director and chief conductor, simply excelled. As of July last year, Orchestra Victoria has become a wholly owned subsidiary of The Australian Ballet, and the artistic merits of that arrangement are already evident. Firstly, there was Fraillon’s attention to the dancers, with well-judged rallentandos. Then, every section of the orchestra had a role to play in accentuating the dramatic shifts in the story, often offering “clues” as in the royal procession. Above all, the musicians more than did justice to Adolphe Adam’s score, surely one of the loveliest and most empathetic in the repertoire.
Being engrossed in the performance I did not take notes, and so may seem to have missed some of the finer points of this Giselle – both positive and not. I can, however, claim to be a typical member of the audience, judging by the applause and comments. We were completely charmed by what we saw and heard, and confident that the Australian Ballet’s Melbourne season got off to the best possible start.
Suzanne Yanko reviewed the opening night of Giselle at the State Theatre on March 13, 2015.
The picture is of Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in the current production of Giselle. It was taken by Jeff Busby.