Giselle, Royal Ballet, live relay from Covent Garden, January 2011Posted on 20 January 2011
This two-act ballet creates a wonderful dichotomy between daylight and night-time. Act I is set in the everyday world, but the second act takes place in world of the wilis, spirits of dead maidens who rise up and destroy any young man they encounter. The story is straightforward. Count Albrecht, disguised as a peasant, wins the heart of Giselle, displacing her previous lover Hilarion. But Hilarion unmasks Albrecht and the shock devastates Giselle, who dies. Both men visit her grave at night and encounter the wilis. Hilarion they destroy, but Giselle helps Albrecht to live until dawn when the power of the wilis fades away. As they leave the stage, Albrecht tries to grasp the wraith that was Giselle, but she eludes him and vanishes.
The story lends itself to psychological interpretation, but this is ballet, not opera, and there is no gimmickry. The choreography and the music amply express the emotions and it’s up to the dancers to exhibit it all. On this occasion Marianela Nuñez gave a charming performance as Giselle, particularly in Act I where her main solo was beautifully danced, and her mad scene was a mixture of heartfelt sincerity and abject anguish. She was superbly partnered by Rupert Pennefather who showed a lovely line, well expressing his noble station in life. Gary Avis gave us a strong portrayal of Hilarion, and Genesia Rosato was excellent as Giselle’s mother, Berthe, an important character whose mime sequences express so much. That’s where a first view of this ballet is not enough because it’s not possible to grasp the significance of the mime gestures at first sight. Unfortunately stage performance has largely lost the language of mime, yet Berthe clearly explains about the wilis and their power over young men who carelessly strut their way through life.
But it’s not all mime, and there’s plenty of dancing in Act I, which was beautifully performed. The pas-de-six was headed Yuhui Choe and Ricardo Cervera; she was glorious as usual, and I found his musicality outstanding. Anyone seeing this ballet for the first time might miss the significance of the sword and the hunting horn, but Hilarion clearly compares the crests and realises Albrecht is of the same household as the noble hunting party. When he forces this knowledge on Giselle she goes crazy, and after a short mad scene she dies.
In Act II, Helen Crawford was a fine queen of the wilis, with her big jumps and sense of command, well assisted by Yuhui Choe and Sian Murphy as her attendants. Pennefather and Nuñez were very good together, and I only wish that at the start of their first encounter in the woods the music had not been at such a lifeless tempo, forcing them to move in such slow motion. Apart from this one moment, Koen Kessels’ conducting was full of energy and emotion. It was notably better than the previous week, which was, I suppose, due to extra rehearsals for this live relay. If that’s the case then let us hope the ballet conductors can get more time with the orchestra in future because it makes a big difference to the performance.
This production by Peter Wright makes Giselle one of the strongest ballets in the Company’s classical repertoire, and the updated lighting by David Finn for Act II is wonderfully atmospheric. It conveys the ghostliness of the wilis and their world, which is essential to the story.