Birmingham Royal Ballet
I was looking forward to the 1999 Samsova/Bintley (with assistance from Desmond Kelly) version of Giselle, having only ever seen the Peter Wright version staged for the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Ballet live. I have seen other versions on video (that's another story)…. However, I am pleased with this new-to-me version.
The curtain rises on a truly rural and believable setting by Hayden Griffin, where there is no need to bend in half to enter Giselle or Albrecht's cottage. The settings were lovely, complete with working waterfall and trees on stage. Perhaps the poor London audience response to the current BRB season is being felt by the dancers, as the entrances of Albrecht and then Giselle were most unassuming, no applause at Giselle emerging from her cottage for example. I thought the pairing of Robert Parker and Dorcas Walter worked well, both physically and dramatically. One could really see that she was falling more and more in love with Albrecht as the action wore on. Although I have never seen Ulanova dance, from looking at many pictures (e.g. Days with Ulanova, photographed by Albert E. Kahn, 1962), I found Walters had a physical resemblance to her and displayed a similar 'look' in the various dramatic poses and pauses of both Act I and Act II. Parker displayed great boyish charm while Michael O'Hare in the role of Hilarion showed much anxiety over Giselle's choice. As in other productions, I found that the character development for Hilarion isn't done clearly, so that he again becomes just a bit of an annoyance as opposed to the prime mover in the drama that he truly is.
The ensemble dancing was excellent, as I have come to expect from BRB. The level of energy is always very high and the stage always appears too small for them, either at ROH or the Birmingham Hippodrome. The dancing was crisp and fresh, with very little 'popcorn' effect in the groups (please note Royal Ballet repetiteurs!). The choreography for the women dancing with baskets before running off to the fields was very inventive and lively. My only reservation in Act I is the treatment of the Peasant pas de deux. I found it overly long, danced by the not quite technically assured, or mismatched, Molly Smolen and Tiit Helimets. Also, in this version, it is not Giselle who is crowned Queen of the Harvest, but the female soloist of the Peasant pas de deux. Most surprising and delightful was the arrival of live dogs on stage, preceding the entrance of Bathilde on a white horse! The whole mad scene was well played out, with Giselle finally collapsing after a final surge of energy unbelievable is someone just having stabbed herself. But that's ballet.
Act II opened to a superb set, where Giselle's grave is located amidst a slightly ruined gothic cathedral setting, complete with moonshine coming through the tall windows. The special effects consisted here of a few Wilis flying across the stage as Hilarion was paying his last respects. The dancing throughout was good, but I found that Andrea Tredinnick as Myrtha didn't have the steely technique needed for the role, although her interpretation was icy enough. Walters here emphasized the feeling and drama rather than concentrating solely on technique, which made one overlook the little glitches in the performance. Parker provided some strong partnering and great jumps, his series of entrechats six receiving applause. At the end, Giselle sank back into her grave while her spirit was seen to rise above it and the curtain fell amidst well-deserved bravos from the audience.
Overall it was a very good performance and I felt throughout that the Company gave more than they received. BRB deserved a full house at the ROH and it's a shame they didn't get it.