Set for 'one of the toughest' ballets

Mayu Tanigaito dances the role of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Photos by Stephen A'Courte.
Mayu Tanigaito dances the role of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Photos by Stephen A'Courte.
Daniel Gaudiello gets into shape as Count Albrecht in rehearsals.
Daniel Gaudiello gets into shape as Count Albrecht in rehearsals.
Mayu Tanigaito and Daniel Gaudiello rehearse as Giselle and Count Albrecht.
Mayu Tanigaito and Daniel Gaudiello rehearse as Giselle and Count Albrecht.

Mayu Tanigaito and Daniel Gaudiello will take the lead roles of Giselle and Count Albrecht in the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Dunedin performance of Giselle. The pair talk to Rebecca Fox about the challenges of the lead roles.

He is Australian, she is Japanese. He loves the acting required of dancing, she struggles with it. He is a guest dancer with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, she is a five-year veteran. Yet despite their differences, the pair are enjoying working together as they re-create the age-old roles in Giselle.

The timeless love story, first staged in Paris in 1841, is one of the oldest surviving ballets still being performed.

The version being performed in seven New Zealand centres this year was created by Ethan Stiefel and Johan Kobborg and has become a signature work for the ballet company, performed around the world to acclaim after sell-out performances in New Zealand in 2012.

Mayu Tanigaito and former Australian Ballet principal dancer Daniel Gaudiello take on the lead roles, alternating with RNZB dancer Lucy Green and guest Qi Huan, a former RNZB dancer who now teaches at the New Zealand School of Dance.

Tanigaito has previously danced the role of Myrtha in Giselle with the RNZB in the United Kingdom, China and Italy, while Gaudiello's first role in Giselle was as a peasant when he was just 18.

Gaudiello, who recently left the Australian Ballet to become a freelance dancer and teacher, has had to work hard to get his body back into performance shape for the role of Count Albrecht, the nobleman betrothed to a woman while he breaks the heart of an innocent village girl.

''It's been tough learning everything again. It's one of the hardest classical ballets - you need stamina. You get put through your paces so it does take it out of you.''

He is enjoying working with Tanigaito and being involved with a company again.

''It's refreshing to work with new people, see new things. It's the way I wanted it to be. To be a gypsy and see the world dancing.''

He loves the character, describing him as an ''every guy who wants it all''. A nobleman who rebels against expectations.

''I don't see him as a bad person. He gives in to desire - like someone who eats a bit of chocolate knowing they shouldn't.''

The storyline was just as relevant in today's world as it must have been in the 1840s.

''I love the dark side of any story.''

To prepare for the darkness of the second act he imagines himself going to a casket-viewing the night before a funeral - a process he learned while studying acting for six years in Sydney.

''You get that tight choked feeling in your gut. It's not easy but it has to be that serious. It's what I love to do.

''I like to think of myself as an actor who dances rather than a dancer who acts.''

However, he has learned that going so far as to get tears in his eyes is not helpful when it comes to seeing what he is doing.

''You have to get your hands in the right place when lifting, doing those super-human things.''

These days it is the emotional journey rather than the technicality of the ballet that attracts him back to the main stage.

''Ballet has taught me so much about myself, valuable life lessons of loss, discipline, thinking on your feet, change and pushing yourself past your limits.''

It is that challenge of pushing at the limit that has Tanigaito working hard on the role of Giselle.

''It is a very big role in a classical ballet, very like an iconic ballet.''

That and nearly having to give the role up when she injured a knee a few weeks ago. ''It was a stressful time for me.''

But with strong support from physiotherapists and other personnel her knee came right just in time.

''You never know when you are going to get injured. Even when you are careful, little things can go wrong.

''It's very important to stay strong mentally as well, as you can't control things happening.''

Added to that, the role did not come as naturally to Tanigaito as some of her previous roles, such as Kitri in Don Quixote, which were ''passionate, strong roles''.

''It's very interesting for me. There are so many things to learn.''

Technically, it was a very difficult piece as it required a lot of pointe work requiring stamina and strength. Balancing that was the need to tell a story, to bring the audience along emotionally.

''That is more of a challenge to me.''

Tanigaito has danced Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, the vengeful spirits of abandoned brides, many times. ''It is a completely different character, very strong, very icy.''

It is a role she will also dance this season on the nights she is not performing in Giselle. ''For the next day to change personality will be very interesting. Challenging.''

Moving into the role of Giselle was also an advancement for her. 

''It feels like I'm growing up a little bit.''

She had been helped in her preparation by Gaudiello, absorbing what she could about acting from him.

''He's been super great. He gives so much.''

Her performances in Giselle end a very demanding year for Tanigaito who danced in the RNZB's Speed of Light performance of William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

''It was my dream work. It was so exciting every day. I felt like I was living a dream.''

She also performed in Wizard of Oz as the Wicked Witch of the West.

''It was technically quite difficult but more fun.''

Then to finish off the year came Giselle. ''It's been a good year.''

To see

Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Giselle, accompanied by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Regent Theatre, August 28.

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