Sunday, 4 February 2018

A Very Special Giselle

Ballet West Giselle Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
3 Feb 2018, 19:30 

I've seen a lot of performances of Giselle in my time and I have seen some of the world's greatest dancers from some of the leading companies in the leading roles but never have I seen a more dramatic performance than this evening's by Ballet West.  Let me give just one example. In the first act Hilarion denounces Albrecht to Giselle. Albrecht tries bluff and bluster but Hilarion will have none of it.  He takes a hunting horn, holds it to his lips and then blows it. For several seconds everything freezes. It is like the pause of a slow motion video of a simulated car crash.  Bathilde emerges from the cottage where she had been resting and makes clear to Giselle that Alcrecht is her man. Everybody knows what happens after that. Tonight's performance was not just a ballet. It was a thriller.  The tension  ratcheted up from the moment that Hilarion spotted Albrecht with his girl.

What was remarkable about this show was that most of the cast were students. Not students of the Upper School or even Elmhurst, Central or Tring but of Ballet West, some 500 miles North of London. In terms of distance from the metropolis, it may be the remotest and most beautifully located ballet school in the whole the United Kingdom but it also appears to be one of the best (see Taynuilt - where better to create ballet? 31 Aug 2013).

Nobody should be surprised.  Natasha Watson who danced Giselle today was a Genée medallist (see Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée 30 Sep 2013) and the only British finalist of her year, or indeed several years. at the Prix de Lausanne (see Natasha Watson in Lausanne  15 Nov 2014).  Watson is not the only student to have done well. Uyu Hiromoto, who danced Myrtha, reached the finals of the BBC Young Dancer of 2017 with her classmate Oscar Ward (see the Student Achievement page of the Ballet West website).

One reason why those students do so well is that they have excellent teachers.  I met several of them tonight. Daniel Job, who staged Giselle, has danced with some of the world's leading companies. He is one of the most impressive individuals I have ever met in dance.  In a few minutes of conversation during the interval, he pointed to all sorts of nuances and dimensions of his work in addition to all those that I could see for myself. If his classes are anything like his chat, they must be inspiring.

We glimpsed a little bit of the quality of the teaching in a short work before Giselle called Rossini Cocktail that was performed by several of the company's associates and first year full-time studentsSome of the associates seemed to be very young indeed but all the performers in that piece were poised and polished.  Every step was precise and controlled.  Every synchronized movement perfectly in time. Those students had been trained by Watson. As they live in Glasgow which is a 2 hour drive and an even longer train journey from Taynuilt they could only rehearse infrequently. Clearly, all were talented but they were also inspired.   I have reviewed Rossini Cocktail separately in Fizzing! Ballet West's Rossini Cocktail 6 Feb 2018.

The designers and technicians who created the sets and costumes are as talented and resourceful in their specializations as the dancers are in theirs. Everything has to be assembled and  dismantled for each performance and transported considerable distances.  There are at least two scenes  in Giselle and one of those scenes has at least two structures.  The sets have to be robust as well as realistic. Although the students and staff of Ballet West come from all parts of the world this is an unmistakably Scottish company and its Scottishness was emphasized in the set designs. The backdrop to Giselle's house was Argyll with a loch and hills - not a winding river with watch towers and distant castle.  Giselle's grave was marked by a Celtic cross surrounded by birch trees with the outline of a loch in the distance.

Hilarion (called "Hans" in this production) appeared pinning his gifts of game to Giselle's door.  Much of the ballet depends on that character for it is his jealousy and anger that lead to the death of Giselle.  The role was danced by Joseph Wright who projected those emotions impressively.  Hilarion is followed by Albrecht and his squire.  Albecht was to have been danced by Jonathan Barton, the Vice-Principal of the school but he was indisposed by an injury sustained in a previous performance. Barton's place was taken by Dean Rushton and he was magnificent.

Albrecht knocks on Giselle's door and she appears.   I cannot speak too highly of Watson. I have been one of her fans for years.  She delights me with her dancing.  In this performance she dazzled me with her acting.  Having seen the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet on Thursday I feared that Mimi Ndiweni's performance as Ophelia would have spoilt me for any performance of Giselle. Not a bit of it.  Her hair loose, dangling the sword, eyes rolling, Watson was chillingly realistic.  Her acting was as impressive as her dancing.

The other leading female role is Myrtha. She was danced by Hiromoto who had impressed me last year as Odette-Odile and in the BBC dancer of the year competition.  She was brilliant: icily serene, emotionless, technically perfect.  It was as if she had been born for the role.  She and Watson alternate as Giselle and Myrtha and I am told that Hiromoto's Giselle and Watson's Myrtha are exquisite.  I would love to see the ballet again with Hiromoto and Watson swapping roles.

There are so many dancers to congratulate that this review risks resembling a telephone directory but I have to mention Dylan Waddell and Lucy Malin for their peasant pas de deux.  I know Waddell from Ballet Cymru and Murley Dance and he has always impressed me. He did so again in Giselle. I also have to add Niamh Dowling for her performance as Giselle's mum - another seemingly small but pivotal role - Sarah Nolan as Mayna and Storm Norris as Zulma. All the cast danced well.  I wish I could name them all.

This show moves on to Livingston on 7 Feb, Oban on 8, Glasgow on 10, Inverness on 15 and Edinburgh on 17. I would love to see this show again but when? Phoenix's Windrush  opens on 7 Feb. Northern Ballet's fundraiser follows on the 8. I have tickets for The Winter's Tale on 15 and The Lowry's Dance Sampled for 17.  If you live in Scotland you must catch this show. If you live anywhere else get a train or plane.  This Giselle is special.  It is too good to miss.

I have been following Ballet West since I saw their performance of The Nutcracker on 23 Feb 2013 (see Ballet West's The Nutcracker 25 Feb 2013. Every subsequent show has been better than the last.  Last year's Swan Lake was good but this was on a different level.  It is Ballet West's best show ever.  How will they improve on something close to perfection?


  1. Fabulous review Jane, we are looking forward to seeing it in Glasgow next week. I do hope UK ballet companies (and beyond) start to take notice of the beautiful dancers that Ballet West is producing.

    I just wanted to let you know that there are a few typos of some of the students' names:
    Lucy Malin and Storm Norris

    1. Thank you for that comment LSD.

      I have corrected those two errors and apologize to the artists.

      I wrote that review in great haste in less than ideal conditions. I will refine and amplify it over the next few days. In particular, I want to write more about the dancers who appeared in the Rossini Cocktail who were very impressive.

      I also hope that ballet companies take greater notice of Ballet West's alumni.

      If I had a child who showed aptitude for ballet and wished to study it to a high level I would encourage him or her to consider Ballet West very seriously. The school may be a long way from London and it is not close to Edinburgh or Glasgow but quality wins through in the end.

  2. Wonderful review, I was at the first performance in Stirling & totally agree. It was stunning. However, I must correct you on one point. The Rossini piece was performed by all of the first year students at Ballet West, not the Associates. They attend the main schooling Taynuilt, l six days per week & work incredibly hard. It’s a shame that fact wasn’t accurate in your review.

  3. Thank you. I have amplified the 5th paragraph to make clear that "Rossini Cocktail" was performed by first year full time students and I have reviewed that ballet separately in "Fizzing! Ballet West's Rossini Cocktail".

    Saturday's review had to be written immediately after the show because I have a day job that leaves very little time for blogging. The hotel's wifi was less than perfect, there was a band thumping below and the room had to be vacated by 11:00.