Review: Royal Ballet in Giselle at Royal Opera House

Performance: in rep until 19 February 2011
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 12 January 2011

Royal Ballet 'Giselle' Carlos Acosta & Tamara Rojo
Photo: Bill Cooper

Reviewed: 11 January 2011

The world’s longest-lived and most popular Romantic ballet (dating back to 1841) is a must-have in the repertoire of any serious ballet ensemble. Giselle sells; as acknowledged by the fact that this was its 540th performance by the Royal Ballet. No wonder that it continues to pack out the Opera House when the ballet is dressed and presented as superbly as it is in Peter Wright’s gorgeous and timeless production. John McFarlane’s designs capture the twin worlds of Giselle’s village (Act I) and the haunted woods (Act II) with an aura of perpetual freshness. The woods especially, with their uprooted trees and a ceiling of scrambled, entwined branches provide the perfect lair for the ghostly Wilis to take their revenge on the carefree men who foolishly pass by in the dead of night. The Wilis are spirits of unmarried women who died after being betrayed – like a whole tribe of Miss Havershams, still clinging to their wedding dresses and veils.

The rich maturity of coaching and performances being handed on through generations of dancers were also well evident throughout the cast. True, there were some foibles, as one might expect with new players. The boys’ duet in the pas de six was not as well co-ordinated as it should have been and I was disappointed with Laura McCulloch’s presentation of Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis. She is still growing into the role but lacks the menacing presence of this avenging spirit and I felt that her diffident approach seemed to suggest more victim than predator; a perception that also extended to her two attendants (Helen Crawford and Sian Murphy). I also felt that the orchestra was below par in the second Act with one or two very unfamiliar sounds creeping into the score.

However, the overall standard of performance was excellent. Tamara Rojo gave an outstanding account of the title role; capturing the earthiness and brittle vitality of the popular peasant girl in love with the new boy in the village. After death (and unlike in many other versions, Peter Wright makes it clear that Giselle dies from suicide rather than a weak heart), this earthiness remains in her performance as the new Wili in the wood, as if a part of the village remains in her soul. It is an interesting, thoughtful and mature characterisation – as to be expected from an intelligent dancer with such a rich background. As Loys (the false villager who is really the local nobleman, Albrecht), Carlos Acosta brought nobility and pathos to his performance of a man whose duplicity causes Giselle’s death but who is himself caught in the inescapable prospect of an arranged and loveless marriage. Acosta’s most dynamic virtuoso dancing is now behind him but this great dancer’s ability to pace himself expertly (and very musically) through his second Act variations cleverly maintains the aura of great dancing – and long may this continue.

Tremendous praise is due to those stalwarts of the Royal Ballet, Genesia Rosato (as Giselle’s Mother, Berthe) and Gary Avis (as Giselle’s jealous admirer, Hilarion). They both have such notable stage craft and an intuitive ability to project their every emotion and gesture with an unmistakeable clarity. Christina Arestis is clearly made of the same stuff and her brief cameo of the disdainful, aristocratic Bathilde (Albrecht’s betrothed) was excellent. Valeri Hristov is largely wasted as Albrecht’s Squire, Wilfred, but he certainly injects the role with the appropriate dignified nobility. I also commend Akane Takada, Yuhui Choe and Ricardo Cervera for their dancing in the pas de six. Takada – a nominee for this year’s Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards – is certainly one to watch.

The strength of The Royal Ballet at the moment allows for six casts in Giselle over the course of this season, any one of which will have the same rich heritage to draw upon.

Wherever you are in the world, there is an opportunity to catch one of the very best interpreters of the title role when the performance of the divine Marianela Nuñez as Giselle on 19th January will be screened live at cinemas worldwide. If the live option is unavailable, I heartily recommend that you catch it on screen if you can.

The Royal Ballet continue in Giselle on 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20 January & 4, 5, 18, 19 February

The live screening takes place at 7.15pm on Wednesday 19 January at theApollo Cinema Piccadilly Circus, Empire Leicester Square
Odeon Cinema Covent Garden, Odeon Cinema Kensington, Odeon Cinema Wimbledon, Vue Entertainment Harrow, Vue Finchley Road, Vue Fulham & Vue Islington, as well as other cinemas across the UK.

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