If you missed it, I feel sorry for you. Truly. And the reviews from elsewhere in the country are not just hype either. This was a world-class performance, hopefully the start of an exciting new phase for the RNZB under its new Artistic Director Ethan Stiefel. Stiefel and Royal Ballet / Royal Danish Ballet principal Johan Kobborg have devised a visually enchanting production that the RNZB should be proud to have in its repertoire.
The story will be well-known to ballet regulars – Giselle, a country girl, goes mad with grief and kills herself on discovering that her lover Albrecht, who is actually a prince in disguise, has deceived her as he is already betrothed. In Act Two, she rises from her grave and is commanded by the Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, to dance Albrecht to his death. Yet loyal to Albrecht (somehow), Giselle nonetheless saves him from the Willis.
Principal Guest Artist Gillian Murphy is an outstanding Giselle. Grace, poise, power, emotion are all there as is the technical skill in abundance. You could not help be enthralled by her performance and her skill has rubbed off on the company as a whole. None more so than Qi Huan as Prince Albrecht who was in excellent technical form, a worthy match for Murphy in every sense.
Jacob Chown’s Hilarion was a revelation. Chown’s comic abilities and playing to the audience in previous productions were put aside and he showed previously unseen technical prowess that he should be justifiably proud of – let’s hope we see more of it. Abigail Boyle as Myrtha commanded the stage with her chilling presence and was excellent casting.
There seems to be a new technical discipline in the company, exemplified by the Willis – the disciplined and unified power of the group surrounding Albrecht and Giselle is very palpable and for me was a highlight. A lot of work was immediately evident here and it definitely paid off.
The Auckland Philharmonia knows this score well as does conductor Michael Lloyd. Luckily, Lloyd did not lose his baton although there were moments where he threatened to. Viola solos from principal Robert Ashworth were a notable highlight of the second act.
The season, such that it is, was short – Thursday, Friday, matinee and evening Saturday and matinee Sunday. A shame, really, as a couple of extra performances were justified for such an excellent production and given that Antonia Hewitt and guest artist Andrew Bowman were the alternate leads, it could have been done. No matter.
All is not lost, however. Filmmaker Toa Fraser was filming the Auckland performances as part of a feature film for release next year. While it won’t have the electricity of the live performance, I’d pencil in going to see it now.
Editorial note: this is the last Arts review in the blog for 2012. To everyone who took time to read my reviews and other material, thank you visiting and for your comments and feedback through the year – it is appreciated.