If you go down to the woods today
Anyone familiar with most traditional productions of Giselle may be a little surprised by Mary Skeaping’s 1971 version for English National Ballet. It remains as faithful to the original 1841 French production as possible but with a few later variations also included. The result is basically Giselle as you know it with extra bits; think of it like an extended remix of a song you like.
It’s a handsome enough production (although the men’s costumes look painfully old-fashioned) and there are several pieces of unfamiliar music which, particularly in the second act, give a slightly more menacing feel. There’s also a lot more dancing in the first act, although the jury remains out at the moment as to whether that’s a good thing.
In fact, the first act dragged considerably and the performance felt flat and uninspired. It seemed like the dancers weren’t quite getting the understated nature of the choreography but then what’s a Company to do after several months of performing ultra-modern Akram Khan and then weeks on end of Nutcracker flamboyance? My guess is that by the end of the run the first act will have settled down just dandy.
By contrast, the second act was excellent, mainly due to an outstanding performance by the corps of Wilis. The production serves them well by giving them plenty of hapless men to devour and their movement has an edge to it that raises them above pretty fluttering sylphs. They were brilliantly marshalled by Lauretta Summerscales’ Queen Bitch Myrtha, who looked suitably pissed off when the sun rose, thus preventing her from having her fun with Albrecht.
A bit like the whole show, Alina Cojocaru’s Giselle didn’t really come alive until she was dead but once she did, her partnership with Isaac Hernández’s Albrecht really blossomed. The Adagio of their final pas de deux was beautifully tender and if acting isn’t really Hernández’s strongest attribute, his telescopic legs made up for it in his variation. It was also genuinely moving when their duet ended with his life still in the balance.
I’d like to see this production again to have another go at the first act and, what d’you know? I am. On Friday. When the Mariinsky’s Xander Parish comes to town.
English National Ballet are performing Mary Skeaping’s Giselle at the London Coliseum until 22 January 2017. Tickets can be found on the ENB website.