By BRUCE DENNILL
Joburg Ballet: Giselle / Artistic Director: Iain Macdonald / Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
There are plenty of dark moments in famous narratives of the ballet canon, but Giselle’s second act, in which the ghost of a jilted young woman (the title character) and a host of similarly dead and previously rejected girl-ghouls force one man and then almost a second to their death by dancing (which sounds exhausting), is possibly the most sinister.
It’s possible, no matter how many times you watch a classic tale play out, to come away with slightly different conclusions. In this instance, the first act, in which undercover noble Count Albrecht (Luesson Muniz) and swarthy woodsman Hilarion (Gabriel Fernandes) stand off against each other, each believing that they have more right to the hand of fair Giselle (Boston Ballet principal dancer Anaïs Chalendard) it feels – perhaps simply because the #MeToo movement and its allied causes have become such a prominent part of our collective consciousness – like the guys are taking liberties with her feelings that they haven’t earned the right to; making assumptions they shouldn’t be making.
In that light, the revenge of the apparitions a little later on doesn’t feel as brutal as it does in many productions.
Adding complexity to this scenario are some character interpretations particular to the dancers playing each role. Muniz, for example, is, while tall and strong, possessed of a gentle, sensitive demeanour that makes it difficult to frame him as having any nefarious intent, even if he is both an interloper in an established (though not necessarily romantic) relationship and a liar regarding his own existing engagement. And Fernandes’ Hilarion comes across as a touch paranoid and entitled, which doesn’t help his case.
These characterisations might leave room for interpretation, but the quality of this production is less open for debate. While Adolphe Adam and Friedrich Bergmüller’s music is not as entertaining or compelling in its own right as some other ballets, conductor Eddie Clayton and the Johannesbug Philharmonic Orchestra so a sublime job of giving it light and shade and cannily matching cadences (Clayton always finds a way to have eyes on his score, his musicians and the dancers simultaneously) with the finer details of the choreography.
The corps have been exceptionally well-drilled, with their matched movement making for hugely satisfying viewing for the audience. And capping all of that are wonderful performances from Muniz, who has added height to his leaps as part of a more muscular style overall than he has exhibited previously, and the slim, elegant Chalendard, whose solos balance poetic gentleness with crisp control. The pair form a brilliant partnership, with Muniz’s lifts appearing effortless, and – as a result – Chalendard’s confidence never less than 100% as she can commit fully to every one of the more challenging moments.
As Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis, Shannon Glover is authoritative and imposing, which one would assume you’d need to be if you were going to marshall ghosts. After all, what are you going to threaten the already dead with if they don’t obey?
A fine production that shows off the talents and training of its cast very well indeed.