Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Giselle is elevated by pristine execution and two stunning leads
There are all the tropes of classic ballet here – hearty peasants, a pastoral village, diaphanous white dresses that seem lighter than air when they lift, and of course Germanic breeches and waistcoats on the chaps. You know within minutes of Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of Giselle starting that all moulds will remain safely unbroken tonight.
However, sometimes when it comes to classic tales, classic execution makes the best sense of the material. For certain here, the ballet corps is flawless in its execution of an intricately-patterned and technically demanding piece, with crystal-sharp performances from the two leads. Giselle doesn’t come from the fairytale canon, but was created originally as the ultimate Romantic ballet by Théophile Gautier. In this production the 19th century Marius Petipa choreography is recreated with updates by Johan Kobborg and former RNZB artistic director Ethan Stiefel.
Roguish noble Count Albrecht decides he wants to have some rustic fun playing at being a peasant and goes to a nearby village where he falls in love with local girl Giselle. Unbeknownst to her, he’s already engaged to Lady Bathilde, and when Giselle finds out she drops dead of a broken heart. There’s an operatic intensity to the emotions, that gets even more interesting in the second act when Giselle joins the woodland Wilis – the ghosts of dead brides, who vengefully target young men and make them dance to their deaths.
With the story’s gothic horror edge in this second half RNZB comes into its own. The patterns of the Wilis chorus are icily perfect, chillingly precise. At one point they line up to face off against a young gamekeeper victim, and their formation is as solid and sharp as a clean knife.
Lucy Green as Giselle traces a stunning evolution, maturing from leaping, open armed country girl to sorrowful, merciful lover, as she intervenes to protect Kohei Iwamoto’s Albrecht from the Wilis. The nuance of the physical storytelling is masterful, always articulate in small gestures of status and emotion, never caricaturing – a tricky balance which the company manages with brilliant clarity.
This is a century-and-a-half-old ballet presented in a way that feels as authentic as the day it was born.
Giselle, Festival Theatre, 529 6000, until 31 Oct, 7.30pm; Matinees 29 & 31 Oct, 2.30pm, £13.50--£42.50 (£10.50--£39.50).