Review: Giselle

reviews a typically flawless performance by the Royal Ballet

photo credit: Royal Opera House

photo credit: Royal Opera House

Choreography: Marius Pepita
Production and Additional Choreography: Peter Wright
Music: Adolphe Adam (revised by Joseph Horovitz)
Venue: Royal Opera House
Performers: Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae
Rating: ★★★★☆

The latest offering from the Royal Ballet is a triumph of classic choreography and proved that the traditional ballets are what continue to draw audiences to the Royal Opera House. Despite the last minute cast change with Steven McRae replacing injured Principal dancer Rupert Pennefather, the production was a joy to behold.

The tragic story of the peasant girl Giselle, who falls for Prince Albrecht (masquerading as a fellow peasant) has been a staple part of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire for years and this revival is nothing short of a success. While I was initially disappointed not to be able to see Pennefather dance, one of the few male Principal dancers flying the flag for British talent, McRae was more than an adequate replacement. He oozes stage presence and style, despite this not being his strongest role, he was able to portray the conflicted and love torn Albrecht with great maturity.

The ballet opened with Albrecht running away from his constrained palace life and finding himself in a village in the woods, he settles in a small cabin and happens upon Giselle, the daughter of Berthe who also lives in the village. The first time we see Sarah Lamb as Giselle is as she flits about the stage looking for Albrecht. Her performance was perfect; she captured the love sick peasant girl brilliantly and made up for the sometimes lacking chemistry between her and McRae with flawless dancing.

The pas de six who perform at the Queen of the Vintage festival were all excellent, but my doubts over first soloist Akane Takada remain. After seeing her falteringly perform Don Quixote, it was disappointing to see she made numerous mistakes in the pas de six; particularly when she over rotated in her pirouette and failed to finish the sequence en pointe, in arabesque like the other two dancers, a mistake that was painfully obvious to the audience. Takada looks set to be a future Principal as she has already danced a number of the classic lead roles. If this is the case, her technique needs significant work and her stage presence is particularly poor, having seen her dance on numerous occasions I still can’t warm to her as a dancer.

The highlight of this ballet came towards the end of the first Act, devastated by Albrecht’s deceit upon learning of this betrothal to Bathilde, Giselle descends into madness. Lamb’s performance here is undeniably brilliant; she captures the fragility and insanity of Giselle in a truly tormented performance that was almost uncomfortable to watch. However, McRae’s portrayal of Albrecht’s grief is slightly off the mark, he doesn’t quite display the emotional turmoil of the Prince in the same way as previous Principals.

Despite the brilliance of Act I, Act II is nothing short of magnificent and is where this revival really shines. Hikaru Kobayashi portrays the Queen of the Wilis (Myrtha) with ethereal beauty and the corps de ballet add to the ghostly nature of the performance, they float around in the background as Myrtha casts her spell over Hilarion and Albrecht. Lamb and McRae suddenly connected in Act II, their pas de deux dripped with tragic love and the wooden chemistry of the first Act was swiftly forgotten.

This was a typically flawless performance from the Royal Ballet, my disappointment at not being able to see Pennefather dance was forgotten by the end of the night as the curtain closed on an exceptional production. It has been a vintage season for the Royal Ballet and it looks set to get better as the classic ballet Sleeping Beauty will be performed in the summer followed by the edgy, mixed production of Serenade/Sweet Violets/DVG.

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