Auckland has become the first city outside the United Kingdom to secure performances of one of the world's largest ballet productions.
The English National Ballet will bring about 100 dancers and crew to the Auckland Arts Festival (AAF) next March to stage Giselle, choreographed by dance world superstar Akram Khan and with set design by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon art director Tim Yip. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra will perform the "ominous, gothic" score, which uses hybrid electronics and a full orchestra.
AAF's new artistic director Jonathan Bielski secured the international premiere season on the strength of the "top level" reputation of the AAF.
"Everyone wanted Akram Khan's new Giselle and we had stiff competition from the great cities and festivals of the world," Bielski says. "However, in the end we convinced the company that to go to Paris or some other European capital was something they could do any time but to come to Auckland would be a true event for the company - the summer sun, the glittering Waitemata and our Kiwi charm made for a compelling proposition."
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Performances earlier this year by acclaimed ballet dancers Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin also added to the festival's reputation while Khan's own company staged iTMOI (In The Mind of Igor) at the 2015 AAF.
Giselle will be performed at the Aotea Centre's ASB Theatre. It is the only venue big enough to accommodate at least 40 dancers on stage, a full orchestra and Academy Award winner Yip's huge and heavy set.
Described as monumental, it includes a revolving motorised wall as its centrepiece. Bielski says the wall represents the divide between the elite and the peasants, those who are inside and those who are not, those with and those without.
"It's a powerful metaphor for the gaping inequality of modernity but also references the traditional story of Giselle where the nobles are exalted and mighty above the peasants."
When Giselle premiered at the Paris Opera in 1841, it was hailed as "the greatest ballet of its time". The story centres round an outcast migrant factory worker who dies from grief after discovering her lover is betrothed to another woman. She joins a group of ghosts, who seek revenge for the wrongs done to them, to take revenge on him but love overpowers her and he is released, forgiven.
It fits well with Bielski's aim to introduce a theme to the 2018 AAF of artists dealing with the migration of people and the fears that arise because of this. Giselle will be the festival's signature work with further announcements made during the next few months.
•Giselle is at the Aotea Centre's ASB Theatre from March 1-4, 2018 with ticket prices from $55 to $175.