The Tokyo Ballet, in its Australian debut, delivers a flawless performance of Giselle.
First time guest, The Tokyo Ballet makes a grand entrance on our shores with the classic romantic tale of Giselle. The international ballet company’s performances are presented by The Australian Ballet as part of the winter season. Giselle floats on a breath of poetic beauty and romanticism. The near-perfect production is layered with grand set designs, warm supportive lighting and eye-catching costumes. The choreography patiently delivers moves that build throughout the ballet punctuated by stunning performances by the two lead dancers, Akira Akiyama as Giselle and Yasuomi Akimoto as Albrecht.
Giselle is a ballet in two acts set in contrast: Act 1, a bright earthly world, and Act 2, the ethereal dark world of ghosts and fairies. Composed in 1841 by French composer Adolphe Adam, the melodic score is written in the “cantilena” style and marvelously led by celebrated guest conductor Benjamin Pope with Orchestra Victoria. Giselle would become Adam’s signature piece. The Tokyo Ballet deftly masters the rich score. The infinite lines and patterns created by the corps de ballet are deeply satisfying to watch and the artistic beauty of this production cannot be overstated.
The evening boasts an international ensemble of artists: a Japanese ballet company dancing a seventeenth century ballet with a plot inspired by a German poet (Heinrich Heine) with music from a French composer (Adolphe Adam) with choreography adapted from Russian dance masters (Vladimir Vasiliev, Leonid Lavrovsky and Marius Petipa) and performed on an Australian stage. The outcome is perfection. The ensemble of elite dancers is led by their accomplished Artistic Director Yukari Saito, whose ability to mount such a complicated production overseas is a marvel.
A tale of self-sacrifices and sorrowful love, Giselle is known for its confronting acting demands, especially for the title character in “the mad scene”. The ballerina Akiyama embodies every nuance of a heartbroken maiden down to the smallest fibre in her body. She is more than believable; she is vulnerable like a little girl with womanly love and passion. Her petite frame and endearing qualities are in opposition to her fierce spirit and strength. Akiyama has the most delicate arms that express spritely gestures while her feet flutter, giving the illusion of flight. She and Akimoto dance in simpatico making their duets feel effortless and natural. For his role as Albrecht, a duke in disguise as a peasant, Akimoto is stately and reserved but showcases a jaw-dropping solo in Act 2 involving intricate beats of his feet during earth-defying jumps. Both Akiyama and Akimoto give poetic restraint to their characterisations.
Aside from the outstanding lead characters the real star of Giselle is the corps de ballet of 24 dancers identically-dressed in long white tutus for Act 2. The corps de ballet moves like an amoeba, dancers flowing as one organism with fluidity and precise execution. The corps lives and breathes as one unit led by Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, danced to perfection by Akimi Denda. She moves with unquestionable command and accuracy like a queen bee governing her hive. It is in Act 2 that Giselle’s character matures from a sweet peasant girl to a selfless woman. She is not petty or vengeful despite having been lied to by Albrecht and saves him from certain death by the ghostly Wilis. Akiyama and Akimoto are wholly committed to their characters. They both act with strength and vulnerability without coming across as melodramatic. Act 1 closes grimly with Giselle’s death but, come Act 2, the viewer almost feels sorry for Albrecht despite his untruthful claim to Giselle’s heart.
Other notable performances include a stunning Peasant Pas de Huit (dance for 8 people) in Act 1. The male dancers in particular deliver not only beautiful technical moves but also a unison rarely seen. The four female dancers they partner are equally exquisite and in sync, presenting a picturesque showcase of the classical form.
Grand gestures aside, Giselle is worth viewing for the romantic love portrayed by the lead characters with their flawless dancing. Akiyama’s interpretation of Giselle in particular is extraordinary as is the unfaltering intricacy of the corps de ballet. Thankfully, we are living in a time when we can view an international company of such high calibre in our own theatre. The exchange of international art is truly inspiring.
The Tokyo Ballet’s season of Giselle runs until Saturday 22 July.
Photo credit Kate Longley.
Paris Wages reviewed “Giselle”, performed by The Tokyo Ballet at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, on Friday 14 July, 2023.