It is as if the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre was designed and built exclusively for the performance of Cape Town City Ballet’s Giselle. With green trees enclosing the area and surrounding the back of the stage, the scene and mood of this classic ballet is set even before the show has begun.
The first act opens with Albrecht, played by Thomas Thorne. I say “played” and not “danced” because this role is not merely about the control, strength or technique as a dancer – all of which qualities Thorne clearly possesses. It’s also about the theatre and the ability to convey the emotions of the character to the audience, an ability in which Thorne is exemplary. That is the essence of making a ballet – or any dance piece – believable.
Albrecht carelessly pursues a peasant girl, Giselle, who is played by the exquisite principal dancer of Cape Town City Ballet, Laura Bosenberg. Her grace and elegance is unmatched, and despite her diminutive stature, her faultless lines stretch on endlessly and without any obvious effort. Giselle falls madly in love with Albrecht, of course, but soon finds him to be a fraud. It is here, for the famous ‘Mad Scene’, where Bosenberg’s acting expertise truly shines. Her interpretation of insanity is utterly chilling as she loses her grip on reality with frigid movements and empty, blank stares – and ultimately, she dies of a broken heart.
Although Act I is obviously entertaining and necessary, it serves merely as a set up for the brilliance that follows in Act II, also known as the ‘White Act’. Here, theatre takes a backseat as intense focus is drawn to the beauty of this style of dance.
Giselle is now dead, and the setting moves from her village to that of the cemetery where she lies buried. The bright lighting of the first act contrasts deeply to the blue, eerie gloom of the second where the mystery, magic and darkness are tangible. Ghosts of women who have died of unrequited love, the Wilis, appear at night to take revenge on men by ‘dancing them to death’. And I could not have been more unprepared to be so captivated by their presence. It’s for this specific scene where the venue lends itself so perfectly to the performance, as the Wilis – all dressed in white with veils covering their heads – emerge from the forest and float across the stage in Bourree en pointe. Kim Vieira in particular, in her role as Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, defines the sinister and ghostly allure that is required for bringing cold and heartless death upon others.
The only disappointment was the character of Hilarion – another pursuer of Giselle and a threat to Albrecht – as danced by Xola Putye. In the pivotal moment of his role, as he is being danced to death by the Wilis, he should depict the emotions of fear and entrapment as his life slips away. Instead he came across as rather flaccid, especially in comparison to Thomas Thorne’s portrayal in suffering the same doom.
Albrecht, however undeservingly, is saved by Giselle’s ghost from the wrath of the Wilis. Their final Pas de Deux is the most memorable and gripping piece of choreography throughout the entire show. Thorne’s strength and pinpoint balance are clearly evident as he performs lifts with graceful poise and apparent effortlessness: the perfect frame to Bosenberg’s picture of elegance as she soars above him.
Cape Town City Ballet’s Giselle combines and executes all that is required for a ballet performance: romance, tragedy, superb technique and visual stimulation that is both authentic and enchanting. Seeing this production leaves audiences forever touched by the eternal themes of true love, betrayal, forgiveness and everlasting hope.
Cape Town City Ballet’s Giselle runs every Sunday 27 January to 17 February 2013 at the Maynardville Open Air Theatre.