Adapting to unforeseen circumstances has become a common occurrence for Queensland Ballet in recent years. Not only has the pandemic tested the company’s ability to adjust to change, but so too has extreme and catastrophic weather. “Giselle” was slated to return to the stage last year, for the first time in a decade. Yet, a few weeks out from opening night, a devastating announcement came—Queensland Ballet had to cancel their season due to the damages inflicted by recent floods, and the company’s ability to perform “Giselle” was swiftly washed down the storm drain. Thankfully, however, there was a silver lining. The decision was made to open their 2023 season with the production, and it was a strong yet intimate way to start the year.
Staged by Ai-Gul Gaisina, there were a few changes to traditional elements. In Act One, for example, the peasant pas de deux is reconstructed to suit a pas de huit. For those expecting the iconic variations, it comes as a shock; but what this change does is highlight the talents of eight dancers instead of just two. Callum Mackie and Liam Geck took advantage of this opportunity. Their crisp batterie and synchronisation with one another was a delight to watch. It was also welcome to see Ari Thompson be given the chance to tackle a more challenging technical role. The technique and style of “Giselle” is very unforgiving—the movements are stripped back, and there is no hiding behind grand flourishes—but the entire pas de huit executed the choreography with ease and this is to be commended.
The star of the show was Mia Heathcote and rightfully so. Heathcote has an affinity for portraying youthful, innocent heroines. She is the kind of dancer that leans into the dramatic core of a character, and on opening night, she fully immersed herself and the audience in the reality of Giselle’s world. Her transition from naïve girl to betrayed lover was absolutely believable. And her decent into madness was so captivating that, at times, you forgot there were other people onstage.
Patricio Revé as Albrecht was an apt fit for Heathcote’s Giselle. Their partnership is well rehearsed, and their combined way of moving appears like second nature to them. One of Revé’s strengths is his dynamic technique, so it was nice to see him lean into the softer, more nuanced dramatic portrayal of Albrecht in Act Two.
Yanela Piñera brought her signature precision to the role of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Her fast-floating bourrées across the stage elicited a few gasps from the audiences and made her appear even more otherworldly. Her role was supported by a strong corps of Wilis with the talents of Chiara Gonzalez and Laura Tosar really shining through.
As a whole, the production felt quite intimate and that was mostly due to the theatre it was performed in. The Playhouse (located in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre) is a small stage. The audience can feel almost on top of the action which can be an interesting experience. One the one hand, you can see almost every detail—the depth of paint on the sets, the small alignment adjustments made by the Wilis. On the other, however, it centres the micro detail onstage instead of the macro world of the ballet.
For a ballet like “Giselle,” the haunting spectacle of theatre lies at its core. The unnerving world of the Wilis needs to engulf the audience in a grandeur they cannot physically escape as they are forced to watch men dance to their death. In this revival, the very space that allows for intimate character portrayals also detracts from the otherworldly core of the ballet. The haunting impact that Act Two holds was softened by the audiences’ inability to focus on the macro instead of the micro. How would the spectacle and supernatural atmosphere, then, be heightened on a larger, more intimidating stage that mirrored the core elements of the ballet? A question that is probably bound by venue schedules but one that needs to be asked, nonetheless. A small note in an otherwise entertaining revival of “Giselle.”