Saturday, 22 October 2016

English National Ballet's other Giselle

Standard YouTube Licence

While I acknowledge the merit of Akram Khan's Giselle I am very glad that English National Ballet has revived Mary Skeaping's. Skeaping was the preeminent dance historian of her day, particularly on the early and romantic eras of ballet. I remember her recreations of The Return of Springtime and The Loves of Mars and Venus for the Royal Ballet's former outreach company, Ballet for All. Skeaping's Giselle was, as Luke Jennings noted in his review A Giselle to cry for (The Guardian, 14 Jan 2007)  "the product of several years of research." It is regarded as a particularly pure and authentic production of the ballet.

Skeaping created her version in 1971 and the English National Ballet has re staged it several times since. This production has therefore already stood the test of time and I am confident that it will be re-staged many times over the next 45 years and beyond. One reason for my confidence is that it has a strong, dramatic story in which the tension builds up steadily and relentlessly with its own logic, albeit premised on the strange belief system on which the romantic literature of the early 19th century was based. Another is that it retains Adam's hauntingly beautiful score that have been translated into the most beautiful movements with exquisite designs by David Walker and lighting by David Mohr as Patrick Baldwin's photos on the company's website show. It is easy to understand the critical press acclaim quoted on the trailer.

Would Skeaping's Giselle (or Sir Peter Wright's Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamante's or Yuri Grigorovich's for that matter) have stagnated or become a museum piece had it not been "re-imagined" by a leading contemporary choreographer for our times? I don't think so. As the website of the Dutch National Ballet notes:
"Giselle has no sell-by date. It’s timeless, just like the Night Watch’."
 A few sentences earlier the same web page explained the reason for the ballet's timelessness:
"Giselle is one of the most romantic works of the classical repertoire, but also one of the most challenging when it comes to dancers’ dramatic and emotional empathy. Its lively, colourful first act with the moving mad scene, and the ensuing unearthly, pure ‘white’ act, are still danced all over the world today. It is not without reason that Giselle is known as the ‘Hamlet of dance’."
Now just as there have been many versions of Hamlet over the years, new versions of Giselle are to be encouraged, and where they have merit, welcomed. I mentioned Mats Ek's and Dance Theatre of Harlem's Creole Giselle in Akram Khan's Giselle 28 Sept 2016 but I do not think that any of those interesting re-imaginings will ever divert the stream.

Those like me who have seen Akram Khan's Giselle on tour and yearn for Skeaping's have to make our way to London to see it. I shall be watching it with a friend from my adult ballet class in Manchester. It will be performed at the Coliseum between the 11 and 22 Jan 2017 and tickets are available from the box office and online. I shall review it after the 22.

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