Monday, 20 January 2014

Giselle - Royal Ballet 18 Jan 2014

Why do we still watch Giselle?  Except for the occasional performance of La Sylphide and La Péri we don't see much of the romantic ballets of the 1830s and 1840s probably because we no longer believe in ghoulies, ghosties and lang-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. So why is it that Giselle with its wilis has remained so popular and is in the repertoire of just about every major ballet company in the world?

I think it is because the ballet still has a lot to to say to us not about wilis or prince charming in reverse but about human relationships, shock and the imaginings of a deluded mind. Arguably it has a feminist message though  I doubt that was ever in the minds of Perrot, Grisi or the audiences around the world who have filled the theatres night after night ever since it was first performed. Modern theatre goers do know what it is like to build up one's hopes unreasonably, to see them dashed suddenly, to suffer public humiliation crushingly and in a few cases extreme cases illnesses that can lead to self harm,

Everything is hunky dory for Giselle.  She's the prettiest girl in her village.  She attracts the hunky new kid with style who is so much more fun than nerdy old Hilarion who is in with her mum for slipping her the occasional rabbit or partridge. There she is - queen of some kind of harvest pageant the envy of all her friends - and then Hilarion spoils it all by exposing Albrecht as a two timer.  Suddenly from queen of the pageant she is a laughing stock. No wonder she goes out of her mind. And her mum yapping on about the spirits of girls who die before their wedding day can't have helped.

Giselle's mad scene is the key to the ballet which forms the link between the merry making and flirting of the first part of the first act and the world of the wilis of the second.  It takes a ballerina with extraordinary dramatic powers as well as great virtuosity to do it well. And she needs a credible partner with similar powers to accompany her. I have seen many versions of Giselle by many companies but I can only recall a couple of performances when I have been entirely satisfied. One of those performances was by Fonteyn with Nureyev and another by Sibley with Dowell. A third was last last Saturday night. Natalia Osipova who danced Giselle in the evening performance at the Royal Opera House on 18 Jan 2013 with Carlos Acosta has those powers. As for her partner, I would go so far as to say that Acosta, who dominates a stage like no other dancer, was the best Albrecht that I have ever seen, and that includes Nureyev.

Also impressive were Thomas Whitehead who danced Hilarion, Deidre Chapman Giselle's mum, Christina Arestis Albrecht's girlfriend, Hikaru Kobayashi queen of the wilis and Elizabeth Harrod one of her attendants. I have been following Harrod ever since I first saw her at a Yorkshire Ballet Summer School Gala and it is great to see how well she is coming on.  I loved everything about Peter Wright's production and also John Macfarlane's designs.

I used to go to the Royal Opera House frequently until it was refurbished.  I got out of the habit when it was closed for those works and I have only been back since though I kept up my membership of the Friends of Covent Garden for most of that time.  It must be over 30 years since I was last in the amphitheatre and how that has changed with its swanky bars and restaurants.  On the whole I welcome those changes but I do miss the old House with its stench of veg, the cut flowers tossed by the audience from the boxes, the liveried footmen and the ritual of the ballerina choosing her choicest bloom for her partner.

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