Giselle is a young peasant girl who dies broken-hearted, having been betrayed by her lover, a duke in disguise. She joins other sad maidens, who have also been abused, in a coven of supernatural spirits. These ghosts, called Wilis, clothed in their wedding dresses and led by queen Myrtha, emerge at night to dance men to their deaths. But Giselle, selflessly forgiving, arduously protects her duplicitous lover Albrecht, until the Wilis retreat on the rising of the sun.

Chihiro Nomura as Giselle and Oscar Valdes as Albrecht. Photograph © Sergey Pevnev

It’s perhaps not the behaviour condoned nowadays by most young women – as was illustrated during the Perth Festival this year when the South African choreographer and dancer, Dada Masilo produced a modern rethink of Giselle, aiming to create a work not about love and forgiveness but about deceit and anger. Giselle does not forgive and the Wilis are vicious warriors. It worked a treat.

When first staged in 1841, however, this famous ballet was conceived without political intent and with a simple narrative without subtext to cater for a public enamoured of balletic virtuosity and romantic sumptuousness, which is reflected in Adolphe Adam’s entrancing score. The West Australian Symphony Orchestra, under the exuberant conductor Jessica Gethin, played with finesse, the poignant nuances teased out to reflect the tragedy on stage.

Set in a German village, the stage was framed by Peter Cazalet’s canopy of tall rustic trees, lit in the first act by Michael Rippon and Jon Buswell with a primrose/orange glow; the peasants attired in similar colours. Under this rosy light, the outstanding Candice Adea and Julio Blanes in the Peasant Pas de Deux won every heart. The charismatic Blanes gave an amazing display of sustained poses at the end of his stunning pirouettes. Adea, as liquid as pouring cream, was simply entrancing. Jesse Homes created a memorably dramatic and jealous Hilarion, Giselle’s unrequited lover, while Beth James as Giselle’s concerned mother could have been less mimetically wooden. The young male foresters gave a powerful united display of potency obviously necessary for wood-chopping activities!

In the second act, Rippon and Buswell turned this pastoral idyll, now containing Giselle’s grave, into the domain of the Wilis using a gorgeous indigo-lit night, a hue which seemed to accompany, aura-like, the vengeful apparitions. Beautifully done.

Jesse Homes as Hilarion with dancers of West Australian Ballet. Photograph © Sergey Pevnev

Chihiro Nomura as Giselle enthralled with the grace and precision necessary for such a crucial role. Her metamorphosis from joyous naivety, to madness, to armoured resolve as Myrtha’s antagonist was handled with prowess and conviction. Chimera-like she seemed in truth to slide through Albrecht’s outstretched arms. As Albrecht, Oscar Valdes was outstanding, owning the stage at all times. His unhurried dramatisation hit just the right mark and his technical bravura seemed effortless. Their duets were sublime and when Valdes lifts Nomura gently aloft for seconds longer than seemed possible, the impact took the breath away.

The Wilis, led by Carina Roberts and Claire Voss convincingly created an ethereal otherworld with the precision and technical strength needed for such demanding choreography. Their suppleness and artistry, combined with the romantic lines and beautiful long white tutus, enticed emotional intensity. Polly Hilton’s precision and tall impregnable elegance as Myrtha was ideal and her handling of the difficult steps, praiseworthy.

Aurelién Scannella and Sandy Delasalle, who met and married whilst dancing Giselle and Albrecht a couple of decades ago, have sublimely re-imagined the original choreography of Giselle by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Their expressionistic approach has created a visually beautiful narrative complemented by technique of cut-glass perfection from both principals and corps, as well as a fine blend of acting and dancing. It was hard to tear your eyes away.


Giselle plays at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until September 28