Giselle – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 1 November 2019

Wili or won’t he?

Question 1 – fill in the comedy blank: ‘Act II of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Giselle gave me the WHAT?’

Galina Samsova and David Bintley’s 1999 Giselle is as traditional as they come – in fact, it’s more traditional than most, even to the point of restoring music from the original 1841 production (a perfectly pleasant peasant pas de deux in the first act). Mind you, it also has a live horse, Wili’s that literally fly in from the wings and a subtle but significant tweak at the end.

Hayden Griffin’s staging is excellent. Act 1 is in the usual forest location and has all the picturesque detail required of the rustic architecture while, just for fun, there’s also a waterfall. The costumes here, however, aren’t always the best; a bit dull for the most part and overly clean and neat for peasants dwelling in the middle of the countryside. The Wilis’ costumes in Act II, on the other hand, are beautiful, especially when enshrouded in their oversize veils. Unusually, this act is set in the ruins of a church but it really adds to the sense of Gothic menace.

Momoko Hirata played the eponymous heroine and was wonderful. As delicate as a fallen leaf in the first act, she was bashful to a fault, a wide-eyed innocent in total thrall to the numpty of a Count seeking his own amusement. As said Count, César Morales’ dancing was so refined and full of care you almost forgave him for his misguided tomfoolery. Nevertheless, the inevitable tragedy struck and Giselle was whisked away to Wililand on discovering her heart had been broken.

I shall never understand why Giselle is so forgiving of Albrecht – I just don’t see the evidence to support her defence of him – and my sympathy usually leans towards Myrtha to win the day but, alas, she never does. Samara Downs was the Queen of the Wilis here and although she’s certainly perfected the stony-face for the role, she was somehow not quite terrifying enough, preferring to remain aloof rather than express any real fury towards her intended victims. Perhaps the dancing between Hirata and Morales convinced her early on that she was on to a loser – they danced so beautifully together it would have been a pity to have separated them unduly.

Among the lesser dancing roles, Beatrice Parma executed her Harvest pas de deux extremely well and Yaoqian Shang shone out for her unhurried poise as Moyna, but a fine effort was made by all. All said, this was a lovely show to watch and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Koen Kessels did a fine job with the music as well.

Gerard Davis

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