Adam: Giselle *****
English National Ballet, Coliseum, 11th and 14th January 2017
It’s bold artistic leadership by Tamara Rojo for English National Ballet to programme its classic Giselle in the same season as Akram Khan’s pulsating rewrite. Mary Skeaping’s production is very nearly as old as I am, while the choreographical ink is still wet on Khan’s innovative version which excited audiences last autumn. Running them almost alongside each other (Nutcracker apart) brings out refreshing contrasts and both show the company at the very top of their game.
Giselle is one of ballet’s most poignant heroines – the simple peasant girl in fragile health, unaware her lover is a member of the aristocracy. When she discovers Albrecht is engaged to Bathilde, her paper-thin heart is broken and she dies. In Act 2, urged on by the ghostly Wilis who lust for revenge against the men who betrayed them, she instead forgives Albrecht, thus saving him from a grisly death. On opening night, Alina Cojocaru gave the most moving Giselle I’ve ever seen danced. Making her role debut in this production, she bursts with joy, a girl who loves dancing, despite the consequences to her health. Cojocaru brings a vulnerable, tender fragility to the title role so that it’s no surprise at all that the discovery of Albrecht’s betrayal is enough to kill her. Then in Act 2, she practically floats across the Coli stage, ethereal footwork – exquisite in développé, with gossamer port de bras. A heartbreaking portrayal. Isaac Hernández made a lovely Albrecht, a sensitive partner with an almost naïve air, less of a cad than usual.
David Walker’s handsome designs depict a rustic Rhineland celebrating the wine harvest – all bucolic jollity and matched by some joyous dancing, such as Rina Kanehara and the explosive Cesar Corrales in the Act 1 peasant pas de deux. Fernando Bufalá is a devoted Hilarion and Stina Quagebeur a kindly Bathilde, almost as shocked at Albrecht’s two-timing as Giselle. It’s Act 2 which delivers the real knockout though, the woodland shrouded in spectral mists as the ghostly Wilis, stabbing the stage en pointe, are summoned by Laurretta Summerscales’ splendidly menacing Myrtha. It’s a bonus that almost all Adolphe Adam’s original score is used, including the rarely heard “infernal bacchanale” where the Wilis try to lure away Albrecht to a busy string fugue, all superbly played by the English National Ballet Philharmonic under Gavin Sutherland.
In Saturday’s matinee, Tamara Rojo offered a very different Giselle. She plays coy with Albrecht, but she knows exactly what she wants and how to get it – a skittish peasant girl with steely footwork and majestic polish. Rojo was ravishing in Act 2, full of finesse and legato phrasing. Guesting from the Mariinsky Ballet, Xander Parish made a wonderfully noble Albrecht, full of aristocratic bearing. His leaps simply ate up the Coliseum stage and I can’t wait to see him back with the Mariinsky in London this summer. The performance didn’t quite hit the heights of opening night – matinee picnics in the auditorium marred the atmosphere in Act 2, a symphony in cellophane – but neither of ENB’s Giselle productions should be missed.
Mary Skeaping’s Giselle runs until 22nd January. Akram Khan’s Giselle returns to Sadler’s Wells in September.