Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, UK
November 6, 2015

Maggie Foyer

The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Giselle (dancers here: Abigail Boyle (Myrtha) and Jacob Chown (Hilarion) Photo Maarten Holl

The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Giselle
(dancers here: Abigail Boyle as Myrtha and Jacob Chown as Hilarion)
Photo Maarten Holl

The Royal New Zealand Ballet, under the direction of Francesco Ventriglia, is currently on tour in the UK. Their Giselle, a production by Johan Kobborg and former director Eithan Stiefel brings the ballet to life with a sense of a real drama in the lives of real people. The small company is brimming with talent and their warmth and commitment floods over the footlights.

The performance at the Swan Theatre had just a dozen Wilis, a minimal set and rather basic lighting but there were substantial compensations: a Giselle of heart breaking vulnerability, an Albrecht of elegant nobility, a salt-of-the-earth Hilarion and a steely Myrtha.

The choreography, with substantial new sections in Act One, stays firmly in the traditional framework but much of the waltzing and skipping has been surreptitiously beefed-up and the men, in particular, are given more interesting choreography. The dancers rose to the challenge making the peasant ensemble so much more than a decorative background.

In the leads, Lucy Green and Kohei Iwamoto, are perfectly matched. Their buoyant jetés in the first act correspond exactly in height and line while her naïve simplicity is balanced by his aristocratic demeanour. Her wide-eyed trust and the gentleness of every gesture mark her out for a tragic end. While Iwamoto both in his classical excellence and courtly gesture was the danseur noble who could only bring her trouble.

Jacob Chown, made a convincing Hilarion. Suspicious of Albrecht’s obvious difference he stalked his prey like a true hunter, checking for clues and piecing together the puzzle. In this version he gets a solo, a gutsy number with a touch of folk dance but it is Albrecht’s crisp and clean variation, strikingly different in style from the other villagers, that steals Giselle’s heart.

Lucy Green in Giselle Photo Brendan Bradshaw

Lucy Green in Giselle
Photo Brendan Bradshaw

The traditional peasant pas de deux is introduced by the bridal couple, a joyous and loving Bronte Kelly and Joseph Skelton. It is cleverly integrated into the story, consolidating character and plot. The principals take the solos and the finale draws in the whole village in a lively celebration.

Strangely, for a production where the dramatic detail was so persuasive, the climax of the mad scene seemed rather perfunctory. Green, an appealing actress, gave a credible performance that with more structural fine tuning could have been great. However, in the second act, she came into her own. Her Giselle, who had given all for love, filled the ghostly glade with passion pure and deep. She has a fine natural jump complemented by delicate ports de bras in keeping with the period but never mannered, her every gesture filled with meaning.

Iwamoto partnered strongly and distinguished his solo with some of the most brilliant batterie I have seen for a long time. Myrtha, Mayu Tanigaito, an ice cold, unwavering Queen was given good support by her two acolytes, Clytie Campbell and Hayley Donnison and a corps of Wilis, silent and sinister who helped build the atmosphere.

I saw this production at its premiere some years ago but I am still not convinced by the concept of setting it as the reminiscence of an ageing Albrecht who, in a brief final moment, is led to his doom by the Wilis. However this could not distract from a fine performance of a great ballet given new life by a company of dedicated dancers.