Saturday, 6 June 2015

English Youth Ballet's Giselle deserves Full Marks for Innovation

English Youth Ballet, Giselle, St George's Hall, Bradford 5 June 2015

If the rest of British industry were as innovative as English Youth Ballet Silicon Valley and South Korea wouldn't hold  candle to us. Janet Lewis, the company's artistic director, has completely rewritten Giselle setting it in rural England in 1912. Contrast the synopsis of the English Youth Ballet's production with Peter's Wright's for the Royal Ballet or the plot of the first performances as set out in Wikipedia.  Lewis has invented for Giselle a father and made him head butler of the local estate, a girl friend for Hilarion called Lucienne and lots of parlour maids, scullery maids, wood nymphs, villagers and others. She has given Giselle a job as the posh kids' governess and inserted whole new scenes into the ballet with chunks of music that I had never heard before into the score.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and the necessity in this case was to find roles for the English Youth Ballet's massive cast.  As I noted in English Youth Ballet in Bradford 24 April 2015 English Youth Ballet consists largely of children and young people who tour the country with the full length classical ballets. The idea, according to the "About EYB" page, is to give young dancers outside London aged 8 to 18 an opportunity to perform in public in a professional setting.  The "EYB Experience" page continues:
"English Youth Ballet gives young dancers a unique opportunity to experience what life in a professional ballet company is really like. It is an exciting journey from acceptance at the audition, to classes, challenging choreography, tough rehearsals and enjoyable performances in the theatre, which mirrors exactly what a dancer in a professional company experiences."
That brings obvious benefits for the kids, their teachers and their parents.

The English Youth Ballet brought their production to St George's Hall in Bradford last night and despite anxieties about the show that I kept to myself when I  blogged about it in April I am glad to say that it worked. Lewis had retained all the good bits of Giselle, her signature dance in Act I with its awkward pointe work, the poignant mad scene, the beautiful arabesques for the corps in Act II, the despatch of Hilarion and the powerful and affecting pas de deux as Giselle dances with Albrecht (re-branded "Albert" in this production) to keep him alive.

The mad scene by Amy Drew, one of the resident principals, was really chilling.  For once I understood the nature of Hilarion's offence.  He was portrayed brilliantly as a really nasty piece of work by Richard Read another of the resident pros.  He thoroughly deserved the bunch of fives landed on him by Giselle's dad (Trevor Wood). I felt far less sorry for Hilarion than I usually do when he was done over by Myrtha (Adele Robbins) and the girls. Dangerous ladies those wilis for they also destroyed a group of schoolboys. When I came across two of them rattling collection buckets for a new children's unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary on the way out of the auditorium I wasn't going to argue and coughed up meekly. Oliver Speers, one of the tallest dancers I have ever seen with very expressive features, brought Albrecht to life.  I have lost count of the number of times I have seen Giselle and I have always been troubled by it (see Reflections on Giselle 29 Jan 2014). One of my problems is that Albrecht, who is a thorough blighter, lives yet poor old Hilarion has to die. Well I actually felt sorry for Speers's Albrecht and I can quite see why Giselle gave him a second chance.

All the dancers - not just the principals - were good and that includes a little boy who may not have slept well last night. He was good too and I'm not just saying that. As there were so many kids it would be invidious to single any out for special praise but this ballet depends largely on the strength of the corps in the second Act. There are some really nasty bits for the wilis as they have to balance in arabesque for quite a time and move forward in formation as the music rises to crescendo which could easily look scrappy of not done well. Yesterday it was done well and all credit to the girls and those who coached them.

The programme notes do not identify the orchestra or the arranger of the score but it was done very well. As I noted above there was quite a few chunks of new music were apparently taken from other Adam ballets. Equally ingenious was Sebastian Petit's set with its backdrop of pines which doubled for both Acts and his atmospheric lighting.  St. Geroge's Hall is really a concert hall and not the best venue for ballet.  I have seen opera there and that's even worse because the front of the house had to be cordoned off for the orchestra. The stage is quite small and the dancers seemed quite cramped at times.  Three qrands jetés brought Giselle from the back to the very edge of the stage.  Had Osipova danced those steps she would have found herself in row E of the stalls. Yet, despite the limitations, the show was a success.

The young dancers were there to have fun and jumping by the chatting and giggling as I passed the stage door they certainly seemed to have enjoyed themselves.  The audience, which seemed to consist largely of mums, dads and teachers. applauded enthusiastically though not always in the right places. At the end of the show, the director appeared with one of the consultants from the Infirmary to appeal for funds for the children's unit. The doctor told us that the company had danced to the patients in the paediatric ward many of whom had never seen ballet before and they really loved it.  On Thursday I mentioned two initiatives to bring ballet to the people of Bradford (BP's big screen in Centenary Square and Northern Ballet's Start Project) so this is a yet another.

There are two more performances today. If you are in Bradford today and have no plants for the afternoon or evening I thoroughly recommend this show.

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