Last Updated on November 9, 2021
The Royal Ballet’s Giselle returns with a world-class first-night performance
Giselle is all about the dance. The eponymous heroine is in love and dances her way through the first act with exuberance and through the second with devoted passion, with one male lead dancing himself to death and the second very nearly doing so, it’s the perfect vehicle for showcase performances. For it to work as a production, the principal roles need to be faultless and the corps totally on form. A production with Natalia Osipova cast as Giselle, as was the case tonight at the Royal Opera House, is a good start. Osipova has already made this role her own, taking the characterisation to a new level while dancing immaculately throughout with beautifully poised arabesques, tidy footwork and jumps that seemed to let her float through the air. So much so that the NYT headline for her performance in 2018 was ‘Many Giselles, but Only One Osipova’. In the space of this two-act ballet, she evolves from a flirtatious, charming peasant girl to a dedicated and philosophical spectre in the second act. Paired tonight with Reece Clarke as Albrecht there was a perfect dynamic. His dancing matched hers with athleticism and strength. His lifts were effortless yet intensely passionate, the sautés controlled and the overall characterisation one of elegance and power. A series of entrechat jumps during the second act had the audience on their feet mid-production.
Originally titled ‘Giselle, ou Les Wilis’ this is one of the masterworks of classical ballet. A romantic ballet with music by Adolphe Adams it was first performed in Paris, France on 28 June 1841. It’s the most famous ballet of the Romantic era and, the version performed by The Royal Ballet is a hallmark production by Peter Wright who added to the choreography of Marius Petipa which in turn was based on Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot’s choreography for the first Giselle, Carlotta Grisi. The Petipa version was from revivals staged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg.
Not only is it one of the world’s most often performed classical ballets, but it’s also one of the most challenging to dance, particular the role of Giselle which Osipova makes appear effortless.
The story is of a beautiful young peasant girl who falls for Albrecht, a nobleman who has disguised himself in order to seduce her. Her suitor, Hilarion played tonight by Lukas B. Brændsrød, is suspicious and when he discovers Albrecht’s true identity reveals it to the villagers. When Giselle discovers the truth, she is heartbroken and takes Albrecht’s sword to stab herself. As she dies, the curtain comes down on Act One with Giselle doomed to become a Wilis and Albrecht to die.
Act Two opens to a forest scene with both Hilarion and Albrecht visiting Giselle’s grave. The ‘Wilis’, ghosts of young women who have died before their wedding day after being betrayed by their lovers, gradually appear on stage. Led by Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis (a convincingly regal and poised Mayara Magri) they dance the doomed men to death by exhaustion. Hilarion falls victim to their wiles and, having danced himself to exhaustion, drowns. Brændsrød is a good match for Clarke and plays the jealous lover with passion.
Albrecht is quickly surrounded by the Wilis and it is clear that he is the next intended victim. Giselle however, still loves him and through that love is able to protect him from his fate. It is in the second act that the Corps de Ballet really shines with immaculate footwork and perfect synchronisation. As my neighbour remarked, despite the prolonged break, the corps seem to have returned stronger and better than ever. The second act offers both principals the chance to showcase their skills and for me, this was some of the best dancing I have ever seen. Reece Clarke, a first soloist is making his debut in the role and his dancing tonight was all the more remarkable for that.
Later shows include Royal Ballet Principals Cesar Corrales and Marcelino Sambe also making their debuts in the role of Albrecht. Casting for Giselle include Marianela Nuñez, who danced the role for her 20th Anniversary with the Royal Ballet in 2018, and Yasmine Naghdi with Matthew Ball.
This is a ballet that should work for everyone. While the dancing will please the most dedicated ballet fan, the romantic story and beautiful staging provide an engaging evening for those who perhaps don’t know ballet so well. Supported by a strong orchestra conducted by Boris Gruzin, it’s hard to fault. The couple sitting next door to me had never been to a ballet before and were in London for a short break. They both agreed that Giselle was a much better evening out than Lion King, their entertainment on the previous night.
4 November – 3 December 2021
Digital Stream 3 December
The Royal Ballet
4, 8, 10, 12, 18, 22 November at 7:30 pm
19, 24 at 12:30 pm
20 November at 1:30pm and 7pm
27 November at 11:30am and 5pm
1, 2, 3 December at 7:30 pm
Tickets £6 – £125
For more information, visit: The Royal Opera House site
Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London, WC2E 9DD For more information and tickets click here.
For more about what’s on at the Royal Opera House in 2021/2022, check our preview listing