Giselle at the Aotea Centre

By Reviewed by Bernadette Rae

A strictly classical work such as Giselle offers a company like the Royal New Zealand Ballet, whose forte lies at the contemporary end of the spectrum, every opportunity to get it wrong.

The first act is all rustic village on the Rhine, with happy peasants preparing for their harvest festival and first love blossoming. The second is set in a spectral forest, where the Wilis, the souls of betrothed girls betrayed before their weddings, lure young men, then dance them to death.

The beauty of such a work for today's audience lies in transcending the grand cliche. So you might approach Giselle with some caution.

Can they manoeuvre through the mire of balletic mime? Have they conquered the formidable demands of the technique? Will they believably embody Giselle's range of characters - innocent maiden, duplicitous prince, friends, huntsmen, courtiers?

The answer to all those questions is yes. This is a fine Giselle, and with Yu Takayama in the title role on Auckland's opening night and Qi Huan as her prince Albrecht, rapturous.

Takayama is a delicate delight as the shy young Giselle, heartbreaking in the death scene. She flawlessly embodies the spirit of love conquering all, in the second half.

It is the first time she has stepped into a leading role since her dramatic on-stage accident at the Aotea Centre in A Million Kisses to My Skin in May last year, when she ruptured a knee ligament. She is now replacing Catherine Eddy, who is nursing an improving achilles tendon strain.

Qi Huan is a dazzling asset to the male line-up with his strong physique, powerful elevation, technical prowess and fine characterisation.

The Peasant Pas de Six shows off the depth of talent developing again after a spate of company changes. The ghostly lines of perfect Wilis illustrate the lustrous strength of the corp.

Turid Revfiem, as Giselle's distraught mother Berthe, shines out from the ranks of well-played character roles with her lucid mime. Sets and costumes are everything they should be.

And the Auckland Philharmonia makes the most of Adolphe Adams' score to make this a Giselle to revel in - and remember.

* until Dec 10

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