Above – Akira Akiyama. Cover – Akira Akiyama and Yasuomi Akimoto. Photos – Kate Longley.

Giselle was first performed in 1841 and still resonates today, with audiences returning again and again for its timeless combination of human drama and ethereality. As a classical ballet, it has all the goods – wrapped up in two very contrasting acts. Across the decades, it has been reinterpreted and reinvented too many times to possibly keep track of. Yet no matter how much it is deconstructed and modernized, the traditional performances still draw the crowds. 

This version, performed by The Tokyo Ballet (visiting Australia for the first time) sticks to a classical imagining, with choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky (himself, taking inspiration from those before him – Coralli, Perrot and Petipa). This choreography has been around since 1944, initially created for The Bolshoi ballet. 

More recently, the usual peasant pas de deux of Act 1 was replaced with a pas de huit (choreographed by Vladimir Vasiliev) which allows more dancers to be showcased. It has proved a popular change with audiences and still keeps within the classical aesthetics.

When sticking with such canonical material with extensive and familiar histories, there’s no hiding imperfections. Interpretation and technique are everything!

Luckily, The Tokyo Ballet has these things in spades. Partially because the company has performed this Giselle hundreds of times, but more so because they are top notch technical dancers, who bring out the light and shade of every exposition – the drama, both tragic and euphoric, and the physical characteristics requisite for each character. 

Akira Akiyama is a light and delicate Giselle, slight in frame but powerful in technique, who transforms from youthful lovesick girl to a woman struck by madness and despair. Her partner, Albrecht (Yasuomi Akimoto) is a great match. Together they maintain their own energies – hers light and his grounded but both reveal a vulnerability, for each other and the larger environment. Neither overpowers the other and they emit a beautiful respect for one-another across the contrasting acts. 

Unlike many traditional ballets, Giselle is only two (rather than three) acts. Act I’s village scene has a lot of mime and exposition (interspersed with various company dances) and really ramps up at the end with Giselle’s madness and demise. Act II is completely different in tone – full of the ethereality of other-worldly beings and a visual display of perfect precision from the white tutu-ed Wilis (spirits who force men to dance to their death). 

Act II is the showstopper, and The Tokyo Ballet does not disappoint.

The ensemble of Wilis requires a particular unison in which every ripple of arms and drop of the shoulder is timed together. Quartets of dancers move exactly as one being and geometric patterns are sustained with the utmost symmetry. This is the case here – the entire Act II is a delight, with exceptional attention to detail and staging. There is a consistent energy and dynamic from all the corps de ballet that fully embodies the intention and incredible beauty of the iconic act. 

Nicola Benois’s sumptuous set and costume design are in line with expectation, with autumnal hues in the village and the traditional long white skirts and head pieces of the Wilis perfectly attired. Takashi Kitamura’s lighting brings out the three-dimensionality of the village set and sustains the dark, foreboding of the forest and graveyard. 

This visit from the Tokyo Ballet is part of The Australian Ballet’s 60th Anniversary celebrations. It’s no easy task to tour such large companies to these shores. Bringing Giselle is a safe choice for such a big undertaking. And for an elegant classical interpretation, it does not disappoint!

Event details

The Australian Ballet presents The Tokyo Ballet production of
by Adolphe Adam

Choreography Leonid Lavrovsky

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 14 – 22 July 2023
Tickets: from $52
Bookings: www.australianballet.com.au


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