Saturday 12 December 2015

Manchester City Ballet's Giselle

Manchester City Ballet's Giselle
Photographer Caroline Holden
(c) Northern Ballet School 2011 all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the School

Manchester City Ballet, Giselle, The Dancehouse, Manchester 11 Dec 2015

Yesterday I saw Manchester City Ballet, Northern Ballet School's performing company, dance Giselle and I am convinced that I saw some stars in the making. Giselle is not an easy ballet to dance because it makes considerable demands on technique, particularly in the leading female roles, but also because the ballet is a study of powerful emotions such as grief, guilt, jealousy, remorse and, above all, love not all of which the young men and women who performed last night may have experienced. This is a ballet that could easily go very wrong but instead it went very right. A great credit to the producer, Patricia McDonald, the choreographers, Anton Alexandrov and Rachel Hernon who teach at the School, and, of course, the cast.

When I reviewed the company's performance of The Nutcracker last year I mentioned Yukiho Kasai who danced one of the Mirlitons, Sayaka Sugimoto who danced Columbine and Carlos Oliveira and Alex Burrows who were in the Russian dance (see Alchemy 13 Dec 2014). This year Kasai was Giselle, Sugimoto was Myrtha, Oliveira was Albrecht and Burrows and Sugimoto danced the peasant pas de deux. One of the pleasures of following a student company is watching the development of young talent and each of those four has grown considerably. Last year they were promising. This year they are good.

One of the difficulties of Giselle is that it consists of two very different acts. The first is a jolly, bucolic scene until the very end with the gathering of the grapes, the peasant pas de deux and the arrival of the aristocrats' hunting party. There are hints of trouble as Giselle picks the petals off a flower, Albrecht reaches for a sword when Hilarion challenges him with a knife, Giselle falters with what appears to be chest pain and, of course, when Hilarion discovers Albrecht's sword and scabbard but could anyone have foreseen the tragedy at the end? Act II is spooky, A grave in a forest clearing with dangerous malevolent spirits couruing across the stage. This is the act in which the corps comes into its own with its tricky arabesques and travelling steps.

Transitioning between those two acts requires dramatic as well as balletic skills and this is where Kasai impressed me. I have seen some of the world's greatest ballerinas dance Giselle but I can't think of any who pulled off the mad scene better than her. The shock, almost a blanching of the face, the whites of her eyes as she learned of her betrayal and humiliation. She reappeared in act II in a cloud of dry ice dancing with the energy of an uncoiled spring. She performed both parts of her role - the impressionable young girl in act I - and the noble, forgiving spirit in act II - exquisitely.

In both acts Oliveira partnered Kasai masterfully. In the second he showed some real dignity in his remorse. Sugimoto danced her two roles convincingly - the exuberant peasant girl possibly a bride in act I and the icy bringer of vengeance in act II. There were two other talents that I don't remember from last year - Miguel Cardoso who danced Hilarion and Cameron Barclay who was Wilfred, Albrecht's faithful groom. I look forward to seeing them again in future shows.

There were a few little glitches in individual performance but I have seen far worse from established companies. Polly Ward is to be congratulated for her costumes as is the designer of the sets whoever he or she may be.

The programme contains a short history of the Northern Ballet School which does not appear on its website:
"NBS graduates from the company have joined over forty ballet companies worldwide, ranging from the Birmingham Royal Ballet to the Hong Kong Ballet and from the Norwegian National Ballet to the Yuma Ballet of Texas."
Several of its alumni, Jane Tucker, Karen Sant, Josh MossMark Hindle and Cara O'Shea have taught me and I have learned so much from each of them. A school that can produce dancers and teachers like them must be special.

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