In fact it was very nearly four Giselle's but we just got too tired and.. decided not to see the Durante - Mukhamedov interpretation. They are a magnificent pair and reports of their performances have been incredibly positive, but we decided it would be nice, for a change, to see some of the other casts in the week, particularly Bussell - Urlezaga and Benjamin - Acosta. But the place to start is the first night of the season and Guillem and Hilaire..
Sylvie Guillem's favourite 19th century role is Giselle and earlier in the season she created her own Giselle for Finnish National Ballet. It was no ordinary Giselle either, she changed much while essentially staying true to the story. It has a natural air that increasingly seems to suffuse all her dramatic work and Guillem's Giselle with the RB brought much of that feel to the fore. At least one critic felt she was detached totally from the production - for the bad - but others talked of triumph and the magnetism of her acting. I certainly am of the latter 'camp'. While others just see her technique - the constant references to overdone extensions - I see an amazing dramatic dancer who just uses her technical talents in the way any of us would. Her movements are natural to her and I now see them as natural as well. Her Giselle is somewhat knowing but very much the centre of attention and that's what she revels in.
Laurent Hilaire, from Paris Opera Ballet, replaced her regular partner Jonathan Cope who was ill. Hilaire has many fans in his own right and he did a fine job of partnering Guillem. But I would not say there was any especial rapport over and above the doing of a good professional job. We did though come away feeling that we had seen a very great Giselle. Certainly her talking up of the Royal Ballet and RB style at the moment is no cynical attempt to enhance her shot at getting the Artistic Directorship of the company - dramatic dance and realistic dance has come to be Guillem's credo and the RB are its finest exponents.
Darcey Bussell was down to dance Giselle with Igor Zelensky - often touted as the best male dancer in the world. No reason was given for him not dancing, but one suspects he is perhaps too busy and trying to do too much these days. While he might be a major star, to let Darcey down is not good for one's Karma and one notes that at Christmas Darcey is being partnered by Roberto Bolle... Let's hope it's a success and Bolle is happy to develop something.
The lad who always rushes in at these times is Inaki Urlezaga - it used to be Adam Cooper of course. I've generally thought of Urlezaga as a fine enough dancer but possibly rather one dimensional on the acting front. Although he has been increasingly dancing principal roles I've never felt comfortable that he was ready for such elevation. Well some of this has changed because he was a great Albrecht and actually moved me by his acting and partnering. It's lovely to see a performance that changes your mind in some way and I look forward to seeing Inaki develop further.
The Bussell has not done many Giselle's - somebody thought it was perhaps only two. Certainly I don't recall her in the role. Darcey's Giselle is a simple girl and robust physically and in nature - hard for her to be anything else of course. Over the last year or two, Bussell seems to have become technically stronger and she was definitely pushing herself with extensions and things. And as she gets older her acting becomes the stronger too. A nice pairing.
The final Giselle was Leanne Benjamin. Jenny Delaney, for one, raved about Leanne in Giselle but I could not recall seeing her dance it before and when I have seen Leanne in the classics I've generally come away with a view that she is a MacMillan dancer of the highest order... Aside from seeing Leanne, a big draw was that this was Carlos Acosta's company debut as Albrecht. What on earth would he make of it?
Well it was a corker of a night and the audience really got quite enthusiastic with the applause at the end. Of all the couples this was the strongest as a team and could certainly give Viv and Irek a run for their money! Leanne's Giselle is more serious than many. Yes she has fun, but she is aware that marriage is a serious affair and is disturbed by the speed of it all at times. Her act 2 was so full of melancholy some were brought to tears.
Acosta is proving a good actor. Earlier in the week he had done an excellent job on the first night of My Brothers, My Sisters - the MacMillan piece about a less than happy family. With Albrecht he confirmed that he can act. I emphasis the point I suppose because I thought when he joined that he would be a great technical dancer but might not convince dramatically. Well I'm pleased to admit to being wrong! That's not to say he can't get better of course and he can still forget the odd thing at times like in the flower petal scene, where he forgot to pull a petal off prior to the recount with Giselle!
But what really got people going was his dancing in Act 2. What magnificent jumps, what soft landings, what pirouettes. Kumakawa but without the narcissism (that we both enjoy and feel vaguely uneasy about). Oohs and ahhs from all round. Acosta is seriously good news for the company and before too long he will be much more widely known than he is at the moment. And I'm looking forward to seeing more of Leanne Benjamin in any and all the repertoire.
I have to mention some of the other dancers. A gold star goes to Luke Heydon for his Hilarion and to Alastair Marriott (no relation) as Leader of the Hunt; he plays the role marvellously camp. Rosalind Eyre has inherited the mantle of best Berthe: Gerd Larsen always seemed so right and now Eyre does. Of the three Bathilde's I still find Genesia Rosato the most riveting - a real high class spoilt daughter for sure. To watch her is an object lesson in how you can add much colour to a production and yet not steal the show.
The choreography for Myrtha remains a real test for many. Tranah had a desperate time of it, Ortueta faired better but flagged and looked totally exhausted by the end and Yanowsky has the look and much of the dance under control.. but not quite all yet. On the Moyna and Zulme front it was nice to see Laura Morera and Chloe Davies - if anything they both tried too hard, but let's hope they get the opportunity to do more.
Belinda Hatley in the Pas de six was looking very sharp and clear. Her partner Shi-Ning Liu really excelled himself and the audience's normal expectations. He looked so pleased, as well he might.
Overall I was impressed by the quality of all the Giselle's - they were all special in one way or another and to have seen any would have been a rare treat and not run-of-the-mill RB (heaven forbid there could be such a thing of course!). Dancers apart, Giselle remains very special in the repertoire and Peter Wright's production a benchmark of good taste. A great shame he is not younger and available to take the helm of the Royal.