Sunday, June 18, 2006

He loves me, he loves me not...

I went to the Ballet. Short version: It was fun. For the long version, read on...

A friend of my husband mentioned recently that she had not ever been to see a ballet performed and although she was interested she wasn't quite sure what she should see as a first-timer. I mentioned that it would probably be better to see one of the more well-known productions that had lots of colour and brightness and a story that was easy to follow. The following week a Mother's Day special arrived for
The Australian Ballet's production of 'Giselle' at a discounted ticket price. After she agreed that it looked like a good deal I booked the tickets.

On Friday night (June 16th) we met outside the Box Office in the
Arts Centre and walked the sumptuously carpeted distance to the Door nominated on our tickets. On the way I bought a programme because I hadn't done it in years and I was interested in finding out who was still with the company, who had been promoted, who had returned, and who were the new "crop" in the Corps de Ballet. Those programs are not cheap: I remember when they were only four dollars and now they're fifteen! Aah well, it was a special occasion.

I used to go to see The Australian Ballet with my Grandmother. We had a Season Ticket and would go to every production. It's something special that we did together for years. I would have invited her along this time but she had arrived back from an overseas trip the day before and I didn't think that the jetlag would have allowed her to attend and be conscious. Sorry Nan.

Our favourite male dancer was, and still is,
Steven Heathcote. *sigh* But I won't talk about him here as he, unfortunately, was not performing. The beautifully athletic dancers who were performing on June 16th were:
Lucinda Dunn as Giselle,
Robert Curran as Count Albrecht,
Paula Baird (a Guest Artist and teacher at the Australian Ballet School) as Berthe (Giselle's mother),
Andrew Killian as Hilarion (a forester),
Colin Peasley OAM (Education Programme Manager) as The Duke of Courland,
Natalie Hill (Coryphee) as Princess Bathilde
Craig Cathcart (Coryphee) as Wilfred (attendant on Albrecht),
Miwako Kubota (Coryphee) and Luke Ingham (Corps de Ballet) performed the Peasant pas de deux,
Annabel Bronner Reid, Juliet Burnett (Corps de Ballet), Lana Jones, Dannielle Rowe, Leanne Stojmenoc and Camilla Vergotis as Giselle's Friends,
Jane Casson as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis,
Natalie Hill (Coryphee) and Laura Tong (Corps de Ballet) as the Leading Wilis,
Artists of The Australian Ballet as Peasants, Huntsmen, Court Ladies & Gents and Wilis.

Giselle is a ballet that I have seen before. It's a bit of a classic, really. A traditional "story" ballet with its beginning in France in 1941 at Paris Opéra and its origins in Germanic and other European folklore with its reference to "Wilis" or beautiful female spirits who are the ghosts of girls who died of a broken heart before their wedding day.

Giselle is a young peasant girl with a weak heart and although she loves to dance this threatens her life. A local gamekeeper, Hilarion, loves Giselle and fiercely protects her happiness while Giselle's mother tries to protect Giselle from causing herself unnecessary heart failure.

A Count, Albrecht, comes upon the village in which Giselle lives on the day of the wine festival. He is captivated by her and disguises himself as a peasant by giving his manservant his sword and cloak, which isn't hidden very well (note to Count Albrecht: Have that man fired) in order to charm his way into her heart without her being aware of his status. Being the trusting and gentle lamb that Giselle is, she falls in love with him and is ecstatically happy.

All this work is undone, however, when a royal hunting party arrives in town. Albrecht makes himself scarce. The peasants put on a pretty Pas de deux (a dance performed by a featured male and female dancer) for the Duke of Courland and his beautiful daughter Princess Bathilde, to whom Albrecht is already engaged.

Giselle is enchanted by Bathilde's opulent and stylish clothing and Bathilde by Giselle's sheltered innocence. They converse and find that they are both betrothed. Bathilde gives Giselle a necklace as a gift and Giselle dances to show everyone how happy she is with her beautiful piece of jewellery.

Hilarion has been doing some digging and matches the insignia on the cloak he has found wrapped around a sword with the emblem on the hunting horn hung outside Giselle's house while she and her mother entertain the Duke and his party. Albrecht returns, Hilarion challenges him and Albrecht gives himself away by reaching to his side for his sword as a nobleman would do.

Count Albrecht is exposed and Giselle is heartbroken. After dancing happily all day her health has deteriorated, she dances the famous mad scene and dies.

At the beginning of the second act we are introduced to the
Wilis and their Queen, Myrtha. Myrtha is a vengeful sort and keeps her Wilis in line. Their mission is to haunt the forest at night and lure young men to dance with them until the men die from exhaustion before dawn. Giselle, a young woman whose heart has been broken by her intended's betrayal before her wedding day, has now become a Wili.

Hilarion mourns at Giselle's grave and is enticed by the ghostly apparitions to dance until his death. Count Albrecht arrives also to mourn and although commanded by Myrtha to dance with Albrecht to his death, Giselle still loves him and, defying the Queen, helps him stay alive until dawn when the Wilis lose their powers. Giselle vanishes back into her grave and Albrecht is safe.

According to the performers, this ballet is technically challenging for a modern dancer as a lot of the footwork is different to that choreographed today. I believe that it is also quite a favourite because of this reason but more so because it is one that potential dancers will have seen when very young and it is full of flash and colour and the traditional pointe-work and tutus making it memorable.

It's certainly one that I remember...