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Saturday, August 15, 2009


(Pic: Megan Swart gives a superb performance as Giselle)

Cape Town City Ballet and KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra present splendid presentation of much-loved classic. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Tonight the Cape Town City Ballet (CTCB) , with dancers from the South African Ballet Theatre as well as those from Durban accompanied by our fine KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, presented a splendid performance of the much-loved classical ballet, Giselle.

The celebrated 75-year-old CTCB, South Africa’s oldest ballet company, was last seen in Durban 13 years ago when it also performed Giselle. While things are tough for them as they are with any independent arts organisation, they are to be congratulated on having been able to survive this far.

Giselle is a simple yet poignant story set in the Rhineland of the Middle Ages and notable for its message that love can conquer all. The heroine is a gentle village girl who falls in love with Albrecht, a young nobleman who hides his real identity to gain her affections. A gamekeeper, Hilarion, is overcome with jealousy and reveals Albrecht’s identity. This pressure of hurt and betrayal - coupled with her own frail physical nature – turns Giselle mad and she dies.

In the second act, we are introduced to the Wilis. Led by their vengeful and cold-hearted queen Myrtha, they are spirits of maidens who have died before their wedding day because of faithless lovers. Their revenge is to make those they encounter dance to their death. They find Hilarion visiting Giselle’s graveside in the forest and he is borne away to his fate. Albrecht’s appearance gives them a second victim. When Giselle, who has been summoned by the Queen to be initiated, discovers Albrecht, she pleads for his release and dances in his place whenever he falters to allow him time to recover. As the sun begins to rise, the Wilis must return to their tomb and so Albrecht is saved.

As Giselle, Megan Swart was outstanding. Not once did I see her falter in this role that requires a strong dramatic quality from the dancer: naiive, full of fun and youthful charm in the first half before becoming a heartbroken yet determined spirit in the second act. A figure of lightweight gossamer grace, she made the most complex movement seem effortless. As Albrecht, Xola Putye compelled attention with a strong, muscular and controlled interpretation of the heartbroken lover while Robin van Wyk evinced good dramatic power as the jealous Hilarion.

Angela Hansford was chilling as the cold and forbidding Queen of the Wilis supported by fine performances from Celeste George and Lauren Rogers as the Leading Wilis. Special mention should be made of the Peasant pas de quatre from the South African Ballet Theatre

What a pleasure for Durbanites to see a ballet accompanied by the KZNPO performing the score by19th century French composer Adolph Adam. Ticket sales were originally slow to move but they rose considerably once word got out that this was to be a ballet performed with a live orchestra, as opposed to recorded music. Conductor Naum Rousine is the consummate accompanist, holding phrases to support a lengthened movement and skipping beats should a dancer’s step falter - they’re only human, after all! A case in point of dancer/musician compatibility was the eloquently beautiful section introduced by soulful phrases from the viola and the harp when Albrecht is close to exhaustion and Giselle is dancing for him. The slowness of the music demands ultimate control from the dancers and Megan Swart and Xola Putye handled this superbly.

The acknowledgement in the programme to the Playhouse Mayville workshop crew for refurbishment, construction and painting of the set hopefully means I’m right in saying that this is a Durban set which has been stored at Mayville over the years. Sitting fairly close to the stage, I was able to appreciate and admire the finer details of the “ageing” woodwork and thatch.

Mention must be made of the lighting design by Artscape’s Shamiel Abrahams carried out by the Playhouse’s Dylan Heaton, particularly in the opening of Act II.

If you can still get tickets don’t hesitate to book for the remaining performances: August 15 at 14h00 and 19h30 and August 16 at 15h00. Tickets range from R70 to R120. Book through Computicket on 083 915 8000 or call Playhouse Box Office on 031 369 9540 or 031 369 9596 (office hours). – Caroline Smart

(NB: There is alternate casting with Megan Swart sharing the role of Giselle with Celeste George and Robin van Wyk alternating with Xola Putye as Albrecht. The alternate casting for Hilarion is Mervyn Williams while Janine Laidlow moves into the role of the Queen of the Wilis.)