Ballet review: Giselle, Arts Centre Melbourne

The Tokyo Ballet production of this beloved classic is enough to prove the existence of magic.

Though already a cherished classic, this Giselle has particular significance. As The Tokyo Ballet’s debut in Australia and part of The Australian Ballet’s 60th anniversary, it demonstrates Artistic Director David Hallberg’s emphasis on welcoming international guests, and the company’s growing ability to strike a balance between its rich history and fresh possibilities.

Though the ballet was originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, this production presents Leonid Lavrovsky’s choreography for the first time in Australia… with one key difference. The Tokyo Ballet replaces Lavrovsky’s Peasant pas de deux in Act I with the Pas d’huit choreographed by Vladimir Vasiliev – offering a dazzling show-and-tell of the company’s exceptional talent.

Hilarion (Junya Okazaki) and Albrecht (Yasuomi Akimoto) open with precise work, clearly conveying status and character, and Akira Akiyama performs Giselle with heartbreaking fragility. Her distinct beauty is emphasised by her pure white tulle and blue corset, in contrast to the soft brown hues of the villagers’ costuming. Her descent into madness and death is perfectly positioned – neither overdone nor lacking, leaving the audience equally heartbroken at the end of Act I.

Partner work between Akiyama and Akimoto throughout is stunning, with incredible suspension and a unique dynamic. 

In the Program Notes, The Tokyo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Yukari Saito, says, ‘Giselle allows each dancer’s personality to be pulled out and expressed fully through the ballet.’ Akiyama and Akimoto deliver. Akimoto’s determination as he fixes the number of flower petals to divine only good outcomes for their love and Akiyama’s expression through her descent into madness will haunt those who witness it, piercing their hearts over and over.

The corps de ballet members display equal skill. While in perfect synchronicity, each dancer embodies the ferocious beauty of the Wilis (vengeful spirits of young women) in a distinct way, luring men into their light and dancing them to death. As if skill weren’t enough to believe in their magic, their veils are whooshed into the wings, eliciting gasps and exclamations from the audience. Caught in the Wilis’ web, Albrecht’s grief is on full display. Where his movement in the first act is marked with youth and vivacity, we later witness his desperation thrown into the snap of his cabrioles and slight twist in his torso as he falls in exhaustion. 

Nicola Benois’ set design is beautifully realised, with lighting effectively conveying mood and timeline as we transition from the backlit graveyard in the night to Albrecht’s mourning at dawn.

Read: Opera review: The Tales of Hoffmann, Sydney Opera House

Not only is this Giselle an opportunity for Australian audiences to witness the immense beauty of The Tokyo Ballet, it also serves as a reminder of the power of movement to transcend borders and reality.


The Tokyo Ballet and Orchestra Victoria, presented by The Australian Ballet
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Choreography: Leonid Lavrovsky after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, with adaptation (Pas de huit) by Vladimir Vasiliev
Composer: Adolphe Adam
Set and costume design: Nicola Benois
Technical Director: Yoshiharu Tachikawa
Lighting Director: Takashi Kitamura
Guest Conductor: Benjamin Pope

Tickets: $38-$301

Giselle will be performed at the Arts Centre, Melbourne until 22 July 2023.

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.