Melbourne is Australia’s cultural capital, so I couldn’t let another month go by without dipping a toe in the vibrant cultural scene. I went to see The Australian Ballet‘s final dress rehearsal of Giselle, a classical romantic ballet of unearthly beauty.
The last time I went to the ballet, it was the free Ballet in the Bowl when I was visiting Melbourne, which reignited my enthusiasm for classical ballets. Mostly, I’m a sucker for the gorgeous, ethereal tutus that float around the dancers and the fancy footwork. Giselle over-delivered on both.
The Wili’s romantic, calf-length white tutus and veils floated beautifully around the dancers, making them look every bit the supernatural spirit. Giselle glides so effortlessly across the stage, it is easy to forget that she is a dancer, and not a supernatural spirit. Albrecht, the male lead, springs so high and with such impressive footwork that the audience couldn’t help themselves, and started clapping mid-performance.
It’s not often that I hear live music outside of the city’s buskers, so it was a real treat to listen to Orchestra Victoria tonight. The opening piece sounded so beautiful, delicate and absolutely seamless that I had to keep reminding myself that the ethereal, out-of-this-world music was being played right in front of me.
Giselle, like many ballets, relies heavily on mime to communicate the storyline. I always make sure I read the plot in the program first, so that I have a rough idea of what is going on and can relax and enjoy the beautiful dancing. I’m not sure I could have followed the storyline without being briefed beforehand, but I wasn’t there for the intricacies of the plot.
The ballet is about a peasant girl, Giselle, who loves to dance but has a weak heart. She falls in love with a nobleman, Albrecht, disguised as a fellow peasant. Unfortunately, he is betrothed to a noblewoman, and is unmasked by a jealous peasant, Hilarion, who is also in love with Giselle. She is so heartbroken that she and Albrecht cannot be together, that she goes crazy – she literally dances herself to death.
As a ghost she joins The Wilis, women who have died of unrequited love. These tormented souls kill men who enter their forest, and when Albrecht mourns at her grave, the Queen of The Wilis commands him to dance – intending for him to also dance to his death.
Giselle protects her lover by helping him dance till sunlight, when The Wilis are powerless. Due to her undying love, the curse on her is lifted and she returns to her grave so her soul may rest in peace. Albrecht presumably goes on to marry his betrothed, and leads a comfortable, easy life.
Not exactly a feminist story, but what can one expect from 19th century Paris?
It’s a beautiful performance and is a great introduction to classical ballet.
History of Giselle
It’s one of the most famous classical ballets and is known for it’s historically important choreography, which was groundbreaking when it debuted in Paris, in 1941.
Ballet in France at the time was changing quickly. After the revolution, the bourgeoisie didn’t want the stories about gods and goddesses, favoured by aristocrats, and instead were drawn to stories in everyday settings, about everyday people with a bit of the supernatural thrown in.
The story is partly inspired by a Victor Hugo’s poems “Fantomes” and a passage of prose in a German tale by Heinrich Heime, about The Wilis. The Wilis are young brides who had died before their wedding, who would rise from their graves at night and dance in the moonlight. They’d attract young men with their beauty and exact their revenge by making them dance to death.
The Australian Ballet 2015 – Year of Beauty
The 2015 ballet season celebrates the unique beauty and physical power of ballet. There are the classics, such as Giselle, the premier of David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty (Sept 2015) and the surreal, glamorous remake of Cinderella (June 2015), set in the 1940s.
The Dream is a triple-bill, which means there are three short stories within the one performance. The ballet is a whimsical take on Shakespeare’s most charming comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring mischievous sprites and star-crossed lovers. (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide)
If the classics aren’t your thing, consider 20:21. This ballet celebrates the physical extremes of modern ballet, with the best of the 20th century and the freshest choreography from the 21st century.
How to see the Australian Ballet on a budget
If you’re a ballet-lover, but don’t have the budget for tickets to all of your favourite ballets, consider joining the Australian Ballet Society. Membership is $55 for adults & $29 for students (or under 19s). There’s a long list of benefits, but I think the primary drawcard is the opportunity to attend dress rehearsals. Dress rehearsal tickets are cheaper than normal ballet tickets, but the performances are every bit as beautiful.
I attended a dress rehearsal of Giselle this evening, and it was no less spectacular than a final performance. After each act, the ballet and orchestra would repeat particular dances or scenes, but I found it really interesting. Ballerinas on the sidelines began practicing certain steps, a reminder that the effortless performance comes after constant, dedicated hard work.