Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 1999 production triumphs on all counts. The work of the company’s former veteran director David Bintley and its Russian former prima ballerina Galina Samsova, it remains faithful to Petipa’s 19th-century choreography and removes subsequent additions. In doing so, it provides new clarity and focus.
Designs and lighting by, respectively, Hayden Griffin and Mark Jonathan, place the first act in a village set in a valley against a rocky mountain and a thin waterfall. Autumnal hues dominate – this is grape harvest time. Happiness and vitality suffuse the air.
Act II is set among the ruins of a church, unconsecrated ground where Giselle lies buried. Fragments of gothic columns frame the stage. A broken church window reveals a baleful moon. Here vengeful spirits reign.
On these contrasting sets a story of love, betrayal, forgiveness and redemption is told with skill and verve by the dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Momoko Hirata is a beautiful Giselle: tiny, delicate, her lightness masking effortless technique.
César Morales is a thoroughly convincing Count Albrecht, noble of bearing, enough to arouse suspicions in Giselle’s forester suitor, Hilarion, yet simple and playful with the girl he is so blithely deceiving.
Theirs is an established partnership and they’re beautifully matched, their dancing sunny, and their acting totally engaging.
Acting, and mime in particular, are central to the performances, fleshing out the story and hinting at the darkness behind the surface jollity, and here no praise is high enough for Marion Tait as Giselle’s mother, Berthe.
Tait, a stalwart of BRB and currently the company’s interim director, is superb. The look of consternation on her face when she comes out of her house and sees her frail daughter gallivanting with a handsome stranger is arresting. When she mimes the legend of evil spirits haunting the forest (and what a pity this production curtails that scene!), she causes a shiver to run down your spine; and provokes choked-up feelings at the very end of Act I when, grief-stricken, she pushes Albrecht away from her dead daughter.
In Act II the massed ranks of Wilis are drilled to perfection and suitably scary in their inhuman implacability, even if, as Myrtha, their Queen, Samara Downs, is a little short on imperiousness.
Momoko Hirata’s spirit of Giselle is diaphanous, yet strong in her defiance of her sisters to protect César Morales' suitably remorseful Albrecht, whose dance supposedly to the death, as commanded by Myrtha, is impressive, particularly a literally breathtaking sequence of sharp entrechats.
The final scene of the production moves the focus away from Albrecht, lying prostrate at Giselle’s grave, to Giselle herself, her spirit slowly ascending behind the church’s walls, as if, having forgiven and saved Albrecht, she is finally free and at peace.
|What||Birmingham Royal Ballet, Giselle review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
01 Nov 19 – 02 Nov 19, 19:30 Sat mat 14:30 Dur.: 2 hours 15 mins inc one interval
|Price||£15-£65 (+booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|