The Australian Ballet’s Giselle Revisited

AB_Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in Giselle. Picture_Jeff Busby.It was a pity that more Canberra dance students didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to hear The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director, David McAllister, and his conversation with principal dancer Lana Jones prior to Saturday night performance of Giselle. It was one of the special events organised by Australian Ballet to coincide with the Giselle performances in Canberra.

Those who did were treated to a fascinating insight into what it takes to become a world-class ballerina. McAllister’s questions were insightful. Jones’s answers were disarmingly frank and enlightening. With her mother and father present in the audience, Jones talked about her early training in Canberra, her Australian Ballet School experience, her favourite ballet roles and reflected on some of the world-renowned choreographers with whom she had worked.

She even admitted to pangs of jealousy when her husband, principal dancer, Daniel Gaudiello, was being a little too convincing in love scenes with other ballerinas. But perhaps her most telling comment was her response to a question from McAllister about her future ambitions as a dancer. After a long pause Jones revealed that although she was confident in her technique, she was now concentrating on “perfecting the art”.

The truth of that statement sprang to mind while watching Madeleine Eastoe dance her penultimate Giselle later that evening, prior to her pending retirement from dancing. Eastoe’s performance was pure art, and as close to human perfection as one could hope to achieve, especially in the second act where everything seemed to combine to produce a performance that could only be described as sublime.

In this act, Eastoe was truly transformed into a weightless, ethereal vision. Completely given over to the role, oblivious of everything except her Albrecht and how she could protect him. As Albrecht, Kevin Jackson, matched Eastoe’s mood to perfection, partnering with strength and grace while dancing and acting as if nothing else mattered. Their first lift, when he holds her high above his head, seemed so effortless that it drew spontaneous applause from the spellbound audience.

The wilis too, commanded by Valerie Tereshchenko’s imperious Myrtha, rose to the occasion, each move and pose perfectly executed, perfectly in tune with the mood of the ballet and executed with breathtaking precision. Together with Peter Farmer’s atmospheric setting, and William Akers’ magical lighting, the effect created was of watching some gorgeous antique lithograph which had somehow come to life.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra also caught the mood, responding to conductor, Nicolette Fraillon’s expressive baton with a superb interpretation of Adam’s romantic score.

Eastoe’s Giselle is the result of a whole career devoted to perfecting every move and nuance of the role, as she demonstrated in Act One, where her mad scene was at times, moving, distressing and terrifying. It seems a tragic fact that, having reached such perfection, the tyranny of age prevents dancers of this calibre from continuing to share their art with audiences.

It was a privilege to have experienced this wonderful performance by Eastoe, so beautifully supported by those artists of the Australian Ballet who shared it with her. Despite having seen many Giselle’s over the years, this particular performance will definitely remain a most treasured memory of balletic perfection.

Personal Post Script: While waiting for the performance to begin, a woman wearing a wreath of white flowers in her long, dark hair caught my eye. As she removed her overcoat and took her seat in the front row, I could see she was wearing a tunic and white long sleeved blouse. She was dressed as Giselle.

After the performance, filing out of the theatre, I found myself opposite her and took the opportunity to compliment her for going to so much trouble with her dressing. She responded by telling me that, she was now 46, and this was only the second time she had witnessed a live ballet performance, although she had seen many ballets on film.

She added that she was going blind, which was why she had bought a ticket in the front row, and had decided to dress up to make it a really memorable occasion. She confided that she was so moved by the performance that she was going home to cry some more, before disappearing into the cold Canberra winter night.

Choreography: Marius Petipa, Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot  Production: Maina Gielgud  Music: Adolphe Adam  Set and Costume Design: Peter Farmer  Lighting Design: William Akers reproduced by Francis Croese  Conductor: Nicolette Fraillon

Canberra Theatre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Saturday 23 May 2015
Season: 21 – 26 May 2015

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Image: Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in Giselle – photo by Jeff Busby

Review: Bill Stephens