Lyric Theatre (Australian Ballet)


Imagine a world where love triumphs over death that is the Australian Ballet’s Giselle.

This exquisite ballet soars to the heights of human beauty and aspiration. It tells the story of the peasant girl Giselle (Rachel Rawlins) and her love for Count Albrecht (Robert Curran) despite his betrayal of her.

Rachel Rawlins dances the title role of Giselle superbly. In Act I she is a faint-hearted, innocent peasant cruelly lead astray by Count Albrecht disguising himself as one of the common people. Giselle loves to dance, despite her weak heart. Giselle beseeches her mother (danced brilliantly by Janette Mulligan) to be allowed to dance. Janette Mulligan brings the singular authority and grace of her experience to the mother’s role.

Giselle stands out in a cream outfit among the fawns and browns of the other peasants. Notwithstanding the warnings of the forester, Hilarion (Tristan Message) Giselle falls for the charm of Albrecht.

The famous peasant Pas De Deux is performed ably by Leanne Sthamenov and Daniel Gaudiello.

When count Albrecht’s betrayal is revealed Giselle is struck mad. This is a moment in ballet never to be forgotten. Your reviewer well remembers shedding a tear 35 years ago in the old Her Majesty’s Theatre here in Brisbane when the great Gailene Stock danced the mad scene for the then Australian Ballet’s production of Giselle.

Rachel Rawlins does it differently. Instead of the “coming-apart, centre-cannot-hold” of Gailene Stock, Rachel Rawlins reveals a different, equally powerful side of madness the profound and instant change to the face arising out of a train smash in the mind.

After initially falling with grief she rises with loosened hair and savagely damaged psyche to take the audience through pathways of the soul known only to the rejected and betrayed. Her mad scene is utterly, nobly, magnificent. What is it about dance that cuts to the truth of human nature beyond the superficial labelling of psychiatry? While science labels, art expresses. Rachel Rawlins takes us to places within ourselves seldom visited.

After interval the audience enters into the strange, pure, white, powerful world of those women who have died before marriage with a broken heart the Wilis. It is a frightening world hence the phrase “gives us the willies”. This world was introduced to Giselle’s author courtesy of Heinrick Heine, a German poet who had written a book about Germanic traditions and sagas published in France under the name “De l’Allemagne” in 1835. In that book Heine speaks of those ghosts of previously mortal maidens who died from broken hearts before their wedding day. They rise from their graves at midnight to gather along the highways with where they lure men and literally dance them to death.

In the second act, who should be in the forest after midnight but the cad, bounder and blackguard Albrecht (Robert Curran)? Giselle has recently joined the ranks of the Wilis. Albrecht is subject to the less than tender mercy of the Queen of the Willis, Myrtha, danced with great authority by Olivia Bell.

The corps de ballet rise to new heights in their manifestation as Wilis. Somehow they dance with both beauty and military precision, as if moved by forces higher than mere base minds can comprehend. There is a logic and justice to their punishment of Albrecht; however Giselle disturbs the iron logic of their wrath by intervening to protect Albrecht whom she still loves despite his having caused the loss of her heart, her mind and her life.

If Romeo and Juliet is the story of love’s defiance of death, then Giselle is the story of love’s triumph over death. In spite of her history, in spite of the peer pressure, Giselle dances to save her beloved. The contest between death and love continues until first light when the Wilis (folklore cousins to the vampires) must retreat into the dark. Giselle nurtures Albrecht until this moment, sustaining his life in spite of it all.

The Queensland Orchestra under conductor Nicolette Fraillon lifts us through this mysterious journey. They are true to their task.

Artistic director David McAllister has acted wisely and respectfully in continuing the production as conceived by his predecessor Maina Gielgud.

This season of Giselle was fittingly dedicated to acclaimed Russian ballerina Irina Baronova who died in early July in Byron Bay. In 1938 Baronova toured Australia with the Ballet Russes.

The Australian Ballet’s Giselle manifests the redemptive power of truth, love and beauty.

Playing: 8 – 12 July 2008
Duration: 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval of 20 minutes

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Mon 7th July 2008)