Review: Royal Ballet in Giselle at Royal Opera House

Performance: 6 Apr - 26 May 09
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 7 April 2009

Royal Ballet 'Giselle' Royal Opera House. Photo: Bill Cooper

It’s always nice to welcome back an old friend; and they don’t come any older than Giselle. Born in 1841, this most Romantic of all ballets has been through cycles of innovation, adulation, reform and neglect over its long life. The most fundamental revisions to the choreographic structure were made at the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg under the creative genius of Marius Petipa.

The Royal Ballet’s current production – by Peter Wright – is a direct descendant of the Russian interpretation and has been around since 1985. It now accounts for a large slice of the 525 performances of Giselle at the Royal Opera House.

All this means an unprecedented weight of history and that consequent burden of expectation pressing down on the dancers for this opening night; the quality of their response to this challenge was generally – although not universally – excellent.

The title role was especially safe in the custody of the Royal’s Argentinian ballerina, Marianela Nuñez. Quite apart from her prodigious skills and determined reliability, Nuñez is a delightfully assured and charismatic performer; a gossamer thread floating delicately on steps she delivers with a technician’s accuracy. It is only in the famous “mad” scene that concludes Act I where her innate sensitivity somehow inhibits the intense mania that is triggered by her sweetheart’s duplicity. In this latter role – as the aristocratic Albrecht, who disguises himself as a commoner to woo Giselle – Carlos Acosta is initially disappointing; in the opening Act he is dramatically out-performed by Gary Avis as his love rival, Hilarion, who makes his mimed intentions clear with every simple gesture. But all is forgiven when Acosta bursts from the anodyne, almost at the end, to deliver two spectacularly smooth, dynamic virtuoso solos as the Wilis (the ghosts of jilted brides) attempt to dance him to death, by Giselle’s tomb, as dawn approaches. As the spirit of Giselle – about to join the Wilis – Nuñez is back to her finest form, defending her increasingly fragile man from beyond the grave.

Apart from the always-excellent Avis, there are other stellar performances down the cast list, with the Spanish pairing of Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera leading a charming, rustic Pas de Six, which was generally first class. The soloist, Helen Crawford, stepped up to tackle the challenging role of Myrtha – the Queen of the Wilis – and despite some nervous wobbles and a fixed, phlegmatic expression, it was still a performance that demonstrated promise for the future.

There’s always a tendency to change things in ballet. The Royal has gone through two new productions of *Sleeping Beauty* since the Millennium and someone, somewhere within the company hierarchy is probably thinking that Wright’s Giselle is overdue a makeover. But, this is one old friend that needs no facelift; it should remain just the way it is – a definitive interpretation of the oldest love story in ballet – until at least its 200th anniversary.

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