Published on: 19th Apr 2016
The [Johburg Theatre] is by all means the most photographer friendly theatre in South Africa! They have a distribution list of photographers and we get invited to the dress rehearsals in order to photograph the performance in a more "photographer friendly" setting.
The Ballet "Giselle" was performed from 08 To 17 April 2016 at the Johburg theater, and the dress rehearsals took place in two session on 7 April (one in the morning and one in the afternoon). I planned to go to the afternoon session. As we are only allowed to sit from the third row onward (the first 3 rows are preserved for official press) I thought it would be a great opportunity to evaluate the Fujinon XF 90mm F2 lens. I contacted Eslie Basson of [Fujifilm SA] asking for an eval copy of the lens. He told me that the lens is currently on loan to somebody else but he will do his best to get it for me in time.
By 6 April he still did not receive the lens back, so I decided to cancel my idea of photographing Giselle with the 90mm lens. In fact, I was so disappointed that I decided not to go. On the 7th at 13:00 I received a phone call from my good friends Lyn and Arie Williams. They attended the morning session and was so impressed with the performance that they decided to convince me to go for the afternoon session (I told them the previous day that I will not go anymore). And I did... Not having the 90mm lens, the next best option would be the 56mm F1.2 as the low light of stage productions requires a large aperture in order to get a high enough shutter speed without an extraordinary high ISO. This ended up a very good choice, I think even a better choice than the 90mm, as it allows for a scene that includes enough of the surroundings while still allows enough detail of the main dancers.
(On 8 April Eslie phoned me to let me know he received the lens back - unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, one day too late.)
I normally go totally manual. At the start of the first act I will test the light and set it appropriately, and then keep those settings throughout that act. If a following act has a different mood, the overall light will most likely be different, so then it makes sense to adjust the exposure settings and again keep it the same for the duration of the act.
For the first act of Giselle I found that a setting of F2 and ISO 800 resulted in a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, which means I will be able to freeze the dancers even during a jump.
For the second act, which is a more sombre (and thus darker) scene, I adjusted the speed to 1/250th of a second and kept the other settings the same.
During the second act there was a scene where the Willis dance around the queen and I though it would look good to get some motion blur on them, so I changed my shutter speed to 1/60th and the aperture to F4, but the scene was not long enough, so the resulting sequence of photos was not successful. I then changed it back to F2 and 1/250th.
Other technical notes
The setting is the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. The grape harvest is finished and the harvest festival is taking place. Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a young nobleman, has fallen in love with a shy and beautiful peasant girl, Giselle. But, based on tradition at that time, he is already promised to another woman, Bathilde, the daughter of the Duke of Courtland. Giselle is not aware of his true identity as he disguises himself as a humble villager called "Loys" at the festival.
A party of noblemen (including Bathilda) visits the harvest festival and the villagers welcome the party, offering them drinks and perform several dances. Bathilde is charmed with Giselle's sweet and shy nature, not knowing of her relationship with Albrecht. Giselle is honoured when the beautiful stranger offers her a necklace as a gift before the group of nobles depart. The villagers continue the harvest festivities, and Albrecht emerges again to dance with Giselle, who is by now named the Harvest Queen. Hilarion, a local gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle and is highly suspicious of this newcomer who has won Giselle's affections. Later he discovers Albrecht's sword and presents it as proof that the peasant boy is in reality a nobleman (who is promised to another woman). At this point the party of Noblemen returned unexpectedly and Albrecht is forced to greet Bathilda.
Giselle is totally heart broken when she discovers his true identity and, because of her fragile health, dies!
Note how the warm autumn light changes to a cold blue light when Giselle dies - brilliantly choreographed!
The second acts starts where Hilarion mourns at Giselle's grave. He is frightened away by the arrival of the Wilis,the ghostly spirits of maidens betrayed by their lovers. The Wilis, led by their queen Myrtha, haunt the forest at night to seek revenge on any man they encounter, forcing their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion.
Myrtha and the Wilis rouse Giselle's spirit from her grave and induct her into their clan before disappearing into the forest. Albrecht arrives to lay flowers on Giselle's grave and he weeps with guilt over her death. Giselle's spirit appears and Albrecht begs her forgiveness. Giselle forgives him. She disappears to join the rest of the Wilis and Albrecht desperately follows her.
The Wilis turn their attention to Albrecht, sentencing him to death. He pleads to Myrtha for his life, but she refuses. Giselle's pleas are also dismissed and he is forced to dance until sunrise. However, the power of Giselle's love counters the Wilis' magic and spares his life. The other spirits return to their graves at daybreak, but Giselle has broken through the chains of hatred and vengeance that control the Wilis, and is thus released from their powers. After bidding a tender farewell to Albrecht, Giselle returns to her grave to rest in peace.
(If you have read up to here and did not click on a photo yet, do so to see them in larger format and also to browse through the rest of this gallery)