Ballet Review: Maina Gielgud’s Giselle – Raising The Shades, Or High Corps Values

April 3, 2022

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Cape Town City Ballet: Maina Gielgud’s Giselle / Artistic Director: Debbie Turner / Opera House, Artscape, Cape Town


Overlapping with the Oscars palaver in which one person did something that wasn’t really right and was then subjected to a response that was, if anything, less right, Giselle shows again that ‘twas always thus, as the actions of philandering nobleman Albrecht are rewarded by the attentions of a group of relentless ghosts, whose collective intent is his demise.

Against the backdrop of a restored set by designer Peter Cazalet, the company sets the platform for the ballet’s most famous setpieces with a colourful, energetic first act in which Leané Theunissen underlines the innocence and sweet naivety of the title character and principal guest artist Brandon Lawrence (of the Birmingham Royal Ballet), as Albrecht, impresses early on in terms of both strength elements – he’s a tall, muscular dancer, and his lifts allow his partner to appear as though she’s floating rather than being carried – and his combination of technique and grace (great height on jetes, while matching his timing to his partner beautifully).

Already, early on, it is worth noting the impact that the CTCB corps has, in terms of both its size and the general high standard of their collective work. But in Act 2, where the sinister Wilis (the spirits of women who died after being betrayed by their lovers, as Giselle has been earlier in the story) dominate both the action and the physical space available on the stage, the corps, on their own and in their support of the leads in the various scenes, really come into their own.

It’s difficult for the average audience member to underline exactly what unique touches Maina Gielgud has added to the choreography, but the hand of someone of her expertise and experience is evident in the precision and understanding of the corps as they match symmetry with superb form and timing to create a mesmerising and at times breathtaking visual display throughout the second act.

As Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, Mia Labuschagne is at once authoritative and elegant, her leadership and influence unquestionable whenever she is on stage. Mikayla Isaacs and Olivia Parfitt also impress as the lead Wilis, setting the severe, fearsome mood for the others to build on as Albrecht suffers and Giselle’s shade must come to his aid to prevent an inevitably dark outcome.

Giselle is generally a lyrical, atmospheric piece but, with the drama heightened by Wilhelm Disbergen’s strategically ominous lighting, the complex, impeccably performed patterns of the Wilis, stark against the gloomy backdrop in their white dresses, have seldom been more effective than they are here, and the odd mixture of inspiration and dread inspired by what unfolds makes the action about much more than the classical, historical value of the work, bringing a forest fantasy to vivid life while also pleasing afficionados of technique and discipline.

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