Giselle

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, April 2

Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson. Photo: Jeff Busby

Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson. Photo: Jeff Busby

The ideal way to retire, they say, is to leave the audience wanting more – and Madeleine Eastoe will certainly do that when she hangs up her ballet shoes after her final performance as Giselle in Adelaide in July.

It feels like a fitting choice of ballet with which to say farewell. Eastoe was promoted to principal artist in 2006 after her debut in the role, and she is utterly exquisite in it. In fact, her performance at the opening of the Australian Ballet’s 2015 season was so heartrendingly beautiful it’s hard to believe that the time has really come for her to end her dancing career.

Giselle is one of the great, classical story ballets: a tragic tale of love, betrayal, madness, death and salvation from the Romantic era of ballet.

The Australian Ballet is again performing Maina Gielgud’s traditional but lovely 1986 production, using the 19th century choreography of Marius Petipa, Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Gielgud herself has been in Australia to revive the production, which has set and costumes by Peter Farmer, beautifully lit by Francis Croese (based on William Akers’ original design).

Though she is now 36, Eastoe looks convincingly young as Giselle, the innocent peasant girl who falls giddily in love with a dashing suitor. Flying around the stage she radiates a joy, which she is shy to admit but that cannot be contained. When she discovers that he is a nobleman (Count Albrecht) disguised as a peasant, and already betrothed to a Duke’s daughter, her weak heart breaks, sending her mad and then to her grave.

In the ethereal second act, a distraught Albrecht goes to Giselle’s grave in the forest where he encounters the Wilis, spirits of jilted women who dance men to their death. Still in love with him, Giselle pleads for Albrecht to be spared and manages to keep him alive through the night so that as day dawns he is saved.

Members of the Australian Ballet. Photo: Jeff Busby

Members of the Australian Ballet as the spirit Wilis. Photo: Jeff Busby

Eastoe is such an expressive dancer that she conveys every emotion along the way, while seeming to float across the stage, whether in joy, grief or transcendent love. There’s something about the incredible lightness with which she moves that suggests the air around her is more rarified, with less gravity, than anywhere else on stage. It’s a divine performance: unforgettable, in fact.

Hugely popular with audiences, the Sydney opening crowd went wild. The emotion of her final performance in Adelaide promises to be off the Richter scale.

Kevin Jackson gets better and better. Always a strong dancer, he now has the emotional expressiveness to match the physicality. He is in commanding form as Albrecht. His jumps are exciting, his partnering is sensitive and his performance has a depth of emotion. Despite Albrecht’s duplicity, Jackson convinces us of his love for Giselle in the first act so that he doesn’t appear quite as callous as he sometimes does. And his remorse in Act II is very moving.

Their pas de deux are lovely, developing from shy, joyfulness in Act I to something far more mature and deeply felt in Act II.

Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson. Photo: Jeff Busby

Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson. Photo: Jeff Busby

Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo are a delight in the exuberant peasant pas de deux. (They will dance together as Giselle and Albrecht at some performances). Dimity Azoury is a strong, steely presence as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, Andrew Killian gives a sympathetic portrayal of Hilarion, the gamekeeper in love with Giselle, and Olga Tamara exudes great warmth as Giselle’s mother.

The corps de ballet is in fine form and the scenes featuring the Wilis are intoxicating, while the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Nicolette Fraillon, gives a lyrical performance of Adolphe Adam’s music.

This Giselle is a beautiful and beautifully performed production, at the heart of which is Eastoe’s blissful performance. She is going to be greatly missed.

Giselle runs at the Sydney Opera House until April 22; Canberra Theatre Centre, May 21 – 26; Adelaide Festival Centre, July 2 – 6.

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