In the barren theatrical landscape dictated by COVID, outdoor performances are providing a glimmer of hope for bringing bigger audiences back sooner. While such stagings also come with their own challenges and limitations, Queenslanders have a long tradition of embracing open-air ballet performances.
Despite postponing its 60th anniversary 2020 season to 2021, throughout this year, Queensland Ballet has created opportunities to keep engaging its dancers with audiences.
It’s already three months since it surprised with an intimate season of 60 Dancers: 60 Stories at Brisbane Powerhouse (which will encore at QPAC in December), so the announcement of a three-night presentation of Giselle at HOTA’s outdoor stage accomodating 1609 patrons on the Gold Coast was an unexpected treat. Now, more than ever, philanthropy is keeping the arts afloat, and it was the generosity of GC local Carole Byron, augmenting government support, that enabled this event.
This production staged by Ai-Gul Gaisina proved an early highlight of Li Cunxin’s artistic reign in 2013; the 179-year-old romantic ballet remains one of the most visually beautiful and poignant in the classical canon.
Returning to the technical demands of traditional repertoire after so long offstage must have felt somewhat surreal for the company – even as students, most would have performed more often than they have this year. So it’s understandable that the opening night execution was solid, underpinned by the disciplined corps de ballet work, while not reaching the intensity of emotion that can make this story of betrayal, madness, forgiveness and redemption so deeply moving to modern viewers.
Reprising her non-dancing role as Giselle’s mother Berthe, veteran international artist Janette Mulligan once again set the benchmark for detailed characterisation and dramatic levels of needed to register beyond the front rows in this setting, where patrons are further removed from the stage than usual.
The other leads – Principals Yanela Pinera as Giselle, Victor Estevez as her deceitful suitor Duke Albrecht, Camilo Ramos as the thwarted Hilarion and First Company Artist Serena Green as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis – were technically enjoyable without making the emotional impact hoped for.
Undoubtedly the routine of regular stage performance enhances artistic expression, but some of the modified production elements required by the setting also factored into this sense: a recorded score lacking the verve and nuance of live orchestration, more limited lighting, and from some seats, an angle of view that blocked seeing the dancers’ feet.
Having said that, in the current climate these are easily forgivable aspects and the overall experience was a positive one. There’s a magical mood in watching art under the stars – especially Giselle’s luminously white Wili wraiths – and outdoor ballet performances often attract those who might not otherwise frequent ballet and won’t be focused on the finer details.
Even with outdoor arts events greater restrictions are being placed on them than for sport – infuriatingly, I might add, having attended an AFL preliminary final virtually devoid of COVID-safe measures – so the act of being able to attend a performance and support artists right now is more significant and important than measuring the result by conventional standards.
Queensland Ballet’s Giselle is at the Home of the Arts (HOTA) until November 14