Saturday, 2 April 2016

'Giselle' at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

I was lucky enough to get front row seats in the Amphitheatre of the Royal Opera House to see the Royal Ballet's latest production of 'Giselle' a couple of weeks ago. It was most marvellous and is definitely the springiest, jumpiest ballet I've seen so far. Those dancers just couldn't keep both feet on the ground.

'Giselle' is a tale of love and loss, of mistakes and their consequences. It moves from the down to earth rustic setting of the everyday world to nightmare and the supernatural. It's all in there as the story progresses through some amazing dance, sets and lighting.

Our tale opens with young Count Albrecht coming to the village in the forest to see his beloved Giselle on the last day of harvest and the first tinges of autumn are in the leaves. Albrecht is pretending to be an ordinary villager rather the nobility as he tries to leave the stresses of court life behind. He has found a pure and simple love in Giselle and her first dance when she comes out of the cottage is one of youthful joy as she leaps around the stage and joins her beloved. Ah, how beautiful and right. But Hilarion, the woodsman, also courts Giselle and her mother prefers that match but Giselle loves her Count.

It starts to go wrong when the Counts guests and his noble fiancee pass through the village on a hunting trip and the fiancee rests in Giselle's cottage. It's only when the Count returns that he is unmasked and his secret is exposed. Giselle can' believe that her beloved is already promised to another and this sends her over the edge into madness and she kills herself. The first act ends with joy and life turned to madness and death, the villages grieving and the young Count distraught that his beloved is now dead.

The second half is grimmer and takes place at the side of Giselle's grave in the dark of her first night dead. The lighting was terrific in these scenes, creating an other-worldliness of spooky magic for the scene to play itself out. Giselle is dead and buried but these woods are haunted by the Wilis, the spirits of women who have been jilted before reaching the alter and, if they find a man in their woods, they will make him dance to his death.  Martha, the Queen of the Wilis, comes to claim the spirit of our heroine.

We catch glimpses of the Wilis in their white veils and dresses as they flit between the trees and then they finally emerge en masse, all 26 of them, led by their Queen, and this is a marvellous and spectacular sight! 27 ballerina's dancing together, synchronised movements and then going up on tippy-toes - such glory! Martha leading them in their dance of righteous retribution. They find Hilarion and force him to dance to his death, but when they come across the Count it's a different story since Giselle rises, not to join them, but to save her beloved and that's just what she does, challenging Myrtha and her Wilis to protect her Count. She keeps them away for just long enough for the first light of dawn to penetrate the forest and he is safe. But she is still a shade and returns to her grave, leaving her beloved safe and distraught.

The haughty Myrtha is defeated by a young ski of a girl and you can see that in their dancing, with Myrtha always straight and firm while Giselle is more fluid and lithe, a young girl against an ancient spirit. So much beauty on that stage - how on earth do they do it?

One of my favourite moments was when Giselle and the Count were dancing with Myrtha looking on from the side, ramrod straight and unmoving. And suddenly she goes up on pointe and in tiny steps moves to her left to exit the stage, arms and torso still, legs hardly moving, but her feet taking tiny steps to move her off stage. That was a wow-and-a-half moment!

So many amazing dancers and artists created this ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa with music by Adolphe Adam. This was the 571st performance by the Royal Ballet over the years and I know so since it's printed on the cast list. Giselle was first performed in 1841 in Paris and the first performance by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in 1946 featuring Margot Fontayne. So it has a grand history.

My Giselle was Marianela Nunez with Vadim Muntagirov as Albrecht and Itziar Mendizabal as the haughty Myrtha. Those images of them dancing with the massed troops of Wilis will stay with me for a long time.

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