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The Tokyo Ballet's “Giselle”

When Théophile Gautier abandoned himself to “that misty, nocturnal poetry, that fantasmagoria” he found within the lines of Heinrich Heine, the familiar legend of “Giselle,” the ballet, began to take shape.


The Tokyo Ballet: “Giselle”


State Theatre, Melbourne, Australia, July 14, 2023


Gracia Haby

Akira Akiyama and Yasuomi Akimoto of the Tokyo Ballet in “Giselle.” Photograph by Kate Longley

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Inspired by Heine’s 1835 description of “affianced maidens who have died before their wedding day”, whose “hearts which have ceased to throb,” [1] but whose feet will find no rest in the afterlife, Gautier was indeed right when he mused: “wouldn’t this make a pretty ballet?” [2] Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges co-wrote the libretto; Adolphe Adam, the composition; love upon the page and stage proved more formidable than death; and as Gautier later described: “three days later, the ballet “Giselle” was done and received,” in 1841 at the Paris Opéra. If all of this sounds fast and fantastical, you, too, would be right. As fast and fantastical as the performance time which felt to pass in a flutter of heart beats.[3] As fast and fantastical as the poem that transpired upon stage on the opening night of the Tokyo Ballet’s “Giselle,” presented by the Australian Ballet at the State Theatre.

I entered the theatre knowing a little of the history of “Giselle,” but this perhaps does not convey how it felt to behold the apparition of the Wilis, with first soloist Akimi Denda every fibre the supernatural, implacable Myrtha, for the Tokyo Ballet’s Australian debut. For an awareness of what “Giselle” is and what “Giselle” feels like when you are sat in the audience do not always equal the same thing. Nor does it convey the autumnal daytime village charm of Act One and the necessary contrasting otherworldly brilliance of finding yourself graveside in a forest at night, with the beauty of Act Two’s anticipated ballet blanc that takes your breath away from its veiled get-go. Like Gautier, I abandoned myself to the nocturnal poetry and willingly let the dance make me weightless. For just as “Giselle” can give a spirit a form, it can, I feel, make a body (in the audience, in this case, mine) a spirit, and in doing so, enable it to soar.

I lost track of time. Of realm. Of era. As befits the allure of the Romantic Ballet, the essence of “Giselle,” and Gautier’s credo, art for art’s sake.

Principal artists Akira Akiyama as Giselle and Yasuomi Akimoto as Albrecht “transformed from sound to sight” Gautier’s belief that dance is “silent rhythm, music made visible” with the deftest, lightest of touches. And as such they both presented not as characters, but as Giselle and Albrecht made manifest. A Giselle and Albrecht capable of hovering in the air as if actually winged. Akiyama’s arms, her very being, appeared to float, feather light. Akimoto suspended time with his entrechats sixes. Behind them, the painted world constructed by the set design of Nicola Benois, made this “pretty ballet” a poem to savour. A poem, wedded to blistering precision from Akiyama and Akimoto to the corps.

Choreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, this “Moscow version” of “Giselle” is replete with a pas de huit adaption, in place of the Peasant pas de deux Melbourne audiences have previously seen when the Australian Ballet last performed Maina Gielgud’s production of “Giselle,” with choreography by Marius Petipa after Jean Corelli, in 2018 and 2015. Tadatsugu Sasaki, founder of the Tokyo Ballet, hoped the inclusion of the pas de huit “would make for a more dazzling, joyous staging.”[4] To the joyous, to lineage, add a more dramatic approach, where a pas de deux becomes Vladimir Vasiliev’s dance of eight in which Hitomi Kaneko and Takaya Kako, Miki Wakuta and Shoma Ikemoto, Momoko Takumi and Yuki Higuchi, and Kurumi Anzai and Yugo Yamashita delighted. All of which lead up to Akiyama’s magnetic “mad scene” at the close of the first act. In her luminous white costume banded at the waist with graduating blue, Akiyama became the moon around which the cast of villagers was drawn to like the tides. As she waxed and waned, they drew in close around her and retreated, emphasising the force and swirling intensity of the scene. 

Graveside with Junya Okazaki’s Hilarion’s “What might have been is not what is,” [5] come the second act, Myrtha, to me, appeared first as a lick of fire, flickering brightly in the dark; a transformative spectre. Hilarion having taken flight, in fright, is destined dance to death; fate sealed. Albrecht, also, were it not, we know, for Giselle. Denda’s exacting Myrtha has seen many a Hilarion and Albrecht dance for their lives before, but Akiyama’s Giselle is like a chimera; she might appear an impossible, technical illusion, but like the Greek mythology from which the word is drawn, she, too, is fire within. Her spirit in turn freed from the Willis: what is. 

Identical to Albrecht at dawn, the curtain to another world closed. What might have been: the reason I’ll return.[6]

Gracia Haby

Using an armoury of play and poetry as a lure, Gracia Haby is an artist besotted with paper. Her limited edition artists’ books, and other works hard to pin down, are often made collaboratively with fellow artist, Louise Jennison. Their work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and state libraries throughout Australia to the Tate (UK). Gracia Haby is known to collage with words as well as paper.


  1. Heinrich Heine wrote “De l’Allemagne” in Paris, 1835, and his summary of the Slavic legend of the Wilis, with maidens by moonlight “in their bridal dresses, with garlands of flowers on their heads, and shining rings on their fingers” who cannot rest in peace for “in their dead feet, there still remains that passion for dancing which they could not satisfy during life.” 
  2. Cecile Noble, citing Ivor Guest from ‘The Two Giselles of the Romantic Ballet’, within ‘Théophile Gautier and the Wilis’, Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. 39/40 (Summer/Fall 1997), p.90,, accessed July 15, 2023.
  3. Actual performance time: 2-hours and 10 minutes, with one interval.
  4. Yukari Saito, artistic director of the Tokyo Ballet, in conversation with Rose Mulready, ‘An Anniversary Gift,’ The Tokyo Ballet’s “Giselle” Melbourne programme, 30.
  5. Charles Dickens, “Our Mutual Friend” (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 42. 
  6. Upon a return visit to the forest (on July 18), I saw a different cast. Soloist Maria Adachi in the role of Giselle and Principal Arata Miyagawa as the Albrecht who ultimately proves as true as the white lilies in his hands. As Miyagawa held Adachi aloft the forest floor with the lightest of cloud-like ease, their delicate pas de deux to appease Soloist Emi Masamoto, as Myrtha, was ever destined to guarantee their release. Giselle to rest, and Albrecht to mourning, pure transformation.



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