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Subject: "Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton" Archived thread - Read only
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Bruce Madmin

04-03-01, 06:41 PM (GMT)
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"Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton"
   "The role of Giselle is the fullest single expression of what can be said in terms of dance". So says Dame Alicia Markova, a founder of English National Ballet (ENB), at 90 still their President and, more to the point, widely acknowledged as one of the very best Giselles of the 20th century. Goodness, it was even Markova who danced the role in the first UK production back in 1934.

With so many resonances, there really ought to be nothing better to celebrate this year’s 50th anniversary of the company than Giselle... there is unfortunately a 'but'. Sadly what we saw on the opening night in Southampton was a heavy-handed affair and it would have perhaps been better if the company had created afresh rather than resurrecting Derek Deane's 1994 production.

If Deane's recent Swan Lake impressed us with its good taste and respect for tradition, his Giselle, created only a year after he took over the company, is a reminder of a perceived need to 'jazz things up'. Such change can be wholesale, like Matz Ek's reworking of Giselle which set it in a mental hospital and really forces a complete reassessment of a piece, or just a change of time and place which is the case here. The risk of doing the latter is that the changed references just annoy for little benefit in the telling of the same story.

So gone is the tiny 19th Century village and its simple agricultural ways. Deane's Giselle is set outside a posh hotel high up in the Austrian Alps in the 1920's. Giselle is a chambermaid and her mother (Berthe) the housekeeper.

There appears to have been much meticulous research on the designs for the set and costumes (by Charles Cusick-Smith) but somehow it all seemed at odds - with Berthe looking more like a strange nurse (very strange given the mime she does) and Hilarion, the simple gamekeeper and would-be lover of Giselle, seeming to have wandered off the set of a particularly bad Spaghetti Western. We had a Mexican moustache, cowboy boots and waistcoat and even his belt and knife somehow conspired to look like a six-shooter. Worse Yat Sen Chang also seemed to act in the style of a Western with a wretched leer much of the time. He's a lovely dancer and rightly much praised by all for his pyrotechnics but here his acting and the designs conspired to make one of the most serious of roles incredibly comical.

The comedy though may actually even have been intentional because the Duke, another traditional ingredient of the story, was played for laughs as a complete buffoon and a Maitre D' was camping it all up at every opportunity. If you remember Morecambe and Wise and the terrible 'plays' the latter authored then you have some of the feeling of act one. A noble actress surrounded by a strange gesturing nurse, a bandit, a buffoon and a ridiculous waiter. So much for the telling of a serious story about love and betrayal. And a Rolls Royce being driven across the stage seems just gratuitously silly.

If Act 1 made one mainly chuckle in sadness then the Pas de Six provided a nice cameo of what things can be like in a traditional version and Yosvani Ramos impressed again. Not everything he attempts comes off with total success but his going for it (with Simone Clarke) is appreciated and you know that before long his brio and conviction will all come together.

Act 2 was much more traditional and all the better, the corps looking particularly strong. Unfortunately Hilarion is still in the plot and so the spaghetti western overtones persisted until he is killed off.

Sitting above all this was Daria Klimentova, dancing for the first time after the birth of her baby a few months ago and Dmitri Gruzdyev. They are a lovely classical couple and a national asset who ought to be much better known than they are. Daria has the ghostly distant look of Giselle and her demeanour is incredibly shy and frail. If the portrayals elsewhere were heavy handed theirs were noble and one just wished they had a better production to work within. It might well appear a different ballet with more sensitive casting or the subsidiary roles played more seriously. Giselle, the ballet, can't be for laughs.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton Tomoko.A 04-03-01 1
     RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton alison 05-03-01 4
  RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton Claire S 04-03-01 2
  RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton S 05-03-01 3

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04-03-01, 08:16 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton"
In response to message #0
   Thank you Bruce for the review. I totally agree with you. The role of Hilarion was laughable and it wasn't the best of Yat Sen Chang although I.Brown of the Telegraph seemed to like this Hilarion.
Bruce, it was very nice to meet you at last !
Alison, did you see different castings too ?

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05-03-01, 05:45 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton"
In response to message #1
   No, Tomoko, I saw the same one twice (well, with a different Hilarion and Myrtha). Don't know whether you could hear from where you were, but someone actually *laughed* when Hilarion was forced over the cliff to die. I have to admit I far preferred Danny Jones in the role. Did you get to see another performance? I had two spies (separately) in the audience for the Sat. evening performance, and both of them reported extremely favourably on Takahashi (even though one is generally not a fan of hers). One said that a few people in the audience were even moved to tears at the end ... Said friend also felt that the other two casts were actually better from the dramatic/narrative point of view, although she admitted that Daria and Dima danced beautifully.

I have a few major problems with this production:

The sword - I still can't see any dramatic logic a) for having it there at all and b) for Albrecht being so used to fighting with it that he goes for it automatically when Hilarion challenges him, and therefore gives himself away, if the production's set in the 1920s.

In the second act, as any Giselle fan will know, there's a bit where Hilarion begs for mercy, and all the Wilis turn implacably away from him and shun his pleas. Then, later on, when Giselle tells Albrecht to return to the relative safety of the cross on her grave to protect him against evil, the Wilis are supposed almost to cower away from the cross. Yet the movements the corps use in both these cases look identical, or at least aren't sufficiently well distinguished, which is wrong. It also struck me that the Wilis didn't seem to be quite as cold and unforgiving as when I first saw this production a few years ago.

More thoughts later, perhaps ...

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Claire S

04-03-01, 08:28 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton"
In response to message #0
   Bruce, ENB should hire you for their publicity - you actually made me want to see this to see a "Mexican" Hilarion for myself!!

I know what you mean about "jazzing it up" - when it's done well, it's brilliant (Ek's Giselle, Bourne's Swan Lake). Whne it's done badly - or at least half-heartedly - it's a really not worth the effort. I like the idea of the strange Berta, too!!


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05-03-01, 00:32 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Review: ENB Giselle in Southampton"
In response to message #0
   Know what you mean about Yat Sen Chang. I think he's a fantastically gifted dancer, and the role didn't do him justice at all!

This being my first Giselle, I guess I wasn't too affected by the 1920s update, and I kinda liked the Rolls!

Wasn't too sure about Act 1 - I actually didn't think Daria Klimentova and Dmitri Gruzdyev had much chemistry at first. But I absolutely fell in love with Act II. When Myrtha floated across the stage at the beginning of Act II, that alone was worth the price of admission. Everything was so beautiful! The lifts, the corps, and of course Daria and Dmitiri.

Anyway, I was thinking of going to see it again. Has anyone seen the 2nd cast?

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