Fresh spin on classic ballet Giselle

22:37, Nov 06 2012
Generating Giselle: Johan Kobborg, left, and Ethan Stiefel are the creative team behind the Royal NZ Ballet’s new production of Giselle.

Giselle has danced a long way since its first performance in 1841. Thanks to the Royal New Zealand Ballet we're giving away four double passes for each of the seven centres where Giselle will be performed.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's new production of the classic ballet promises something old and something new.

Royal New Zealand Ballet artistic director Ethan Stiefel describes it as a "sacred work." For Johan Kobborg, Giselle is "special" for anyone who has danced it.

The lady may be 151 years old, but the object of their affections seems ageless; a classic serving of high romanticism and storytelling which continues to grip the public's collective imagination.

* Thanks to the Royal New Zealand Ballet we're giving away four double passes for each of the seven centres where Giselle will be performed. The RNZB tour stops in Wellington, Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin, Auckland, Rotorua, Napier and Palmerston North. Click here to see dates and venues. Learn how to win the tickets at the end of the story.

Yet even a staple of the ballet repertoire benefits from the occasional makeover - and Giselle is no exception. There have been previous versions ranging from a chaotically surreal non-dancing Irish theatre production to a snappy version by the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2005.


But it seems that nothing beats a true original and the tale of betrayal, love and a group of spectral proto-feminists who wreak their revenge on men from beyond the grave, haunts the ballet repertoire.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's new production promises both respect and imagination for a work which first appeared on stage in 1841 with music by Adolph Adam and choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.

Based on the works of Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, and Theophile Gautier, the ballet was revived later for the Imperial Russian Ballet by Marius Petipa. Last performed by the RNZB in 2006, former dancing colleagues and old friends, Stiefel and Kobborg, now taking their gently reworked production on tour with Gillian Murphy, RNZB principal guest artist and star of American Ballet Theatre, dancing the title role for the first time.

Project Giselle began two years ago during a brief meeting in London. The idea slowly evolved via email and the occasional meeting into a firm plan.

"You have to be caring and thoughtful about a ballet, especially one of the sacred works like Giselle," Stiefel says.

"In a project like this you must retain the spirit and essence of the work, especially in the larger set pieces. Johan and I have given a fresh take on act one to enhance the drama. This is a new production with, hopefully, a new life."

He first danced in Giselle in his early 20s and remembers it as a moment when ballet's technical and artistic threads meshed together - "a breathtaking experience and one which catapulted my career in ballet . . . dancing to death can certainly absorb your imagination".

The RNZB's 2013 production has been shaped "in an environment of mutual respect", Stiefel says.

"This production will be new for some of the dancers but it will be a unique experience for everyone."

A 16-year-old Johan Kobborg entered the Royal Danish Ballet School in 1988. After a year at the School he became an apprentice with the Royal Danish Ballet, making his stage debut in Giselle's peasant pas de deux.

He joined the company as a fulltime member in 1991, becoming principal dancer three years later after his debut as James in La Sylphide. Kobborg joined London's Royal Ballet in 1999.

As a choreographer, director and producer he continues to create and stage works for many of the world's leading companies. His first visit to New Zealand comes during a busy dancing schedule - he returns to London the day after the production's first night to dance in Swan Lake.

"It's rare for two dancers to collaborate in a production but this is a special ballet, especially for anyone who has danced it. It leaves a lasting impression on any dancer.

"This is an early ballet about human emotions and the effects of social status; a dark story, especially in act two," he says.

Kobborg's first encounter with the RNZB has revealed a company of "super-positive" individuals with a high work ethic and an openness to new ideas.

"In the ballet world, the New Zealand ballet has qualities which gives it a high international standing," he says.

How to win:

Send us an email including the town for which you want to win the double pass, along with your name, address, post code and phone number, to 

Entries for tickets for the performance in Wellington close 5pm Wednesday, November 7, for all other centres 10am, Wednesday, November 13. Please ensure the email subject line says Giselle.

Terms and Conditions:

Stuff will pick a winner from the comments on this story. Entries for the tickets for Wellington close 5pm Wednesday, November 7, for all other centres 10am, Wednesday, November 13 and the winner will be notified per email the same day.

Prize winners will be determined from a random draw of eligible entries received before 10am on Tuesday, November 13. Only one entry per person will be accepted. Prizes cannot be exchanged for cash or other property. The winner will be notified on Wednesday afternoon. 

Employees of Fairfax New Zealand's corporate office and, and their immediate families, are not eligible for the prize. Fairfax New Zealand Limited's Managing Director, Publishing, will make a final determination if any matter is disputed.

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