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'Giselle', Birmingham Royal Ballet - Sadler's Wells

The Birmingham Royal Ballet remains loyal to the nineteenth century choreography of Marius Petipa in its retelling of Giselle, a tale of tragic love, betrayal and redemption. David Bintley and Galina Samsova’s joint production has interpreted one of the most cherished works of classical ballet to endearing effect. There has been a popular rotation of Giselle within the dance industry this autumn, with Akram Khan’s more contemporary approach running in late September. Sadler’s Wells has successfully hosted two very divergent takes on the classic, both of which stay true to its essence.

© Bill Cooper

A key feature of the Giselle narrative is how different the plots of Acts I and II are. The former captures provincial life during the village’s grape harvest season by characterising it with joy and passion, filling with light a valley set between a mountain and waterfall. The end of the Act takes a dark and intense turn when Giselle loses all sense of rationality due to betrayal and subsequent heartbreak, killing herself with the sword of her lover. The latter event adopts a more gothic tone, taking place at the ruins of a graveyard. Giselle’s gravestone remains symbolic throughout, most notably when her spirit is called from beyond by the Queen of the Wilis, whose otherworldly capabilities drive Hilarion to death, and leave Albrecht alone and cursed by his experience.

Momoko Hirata effortlessly portrays Giselle, both in expressing her fragility and emotional tenderness in Act I, and, contrastingly, her haunting power and strength in Act II. Hirata’s captivating stage presence and delicate technique transform Giselle from Act I’s vulnerable and heartbroken peasant girl to a strong and eluding spirit beyond the grave in the Act following. At the show’s climax, Hirata executes Giselle’s death through a series of rapid rise-and-fall movements—it is difficult to believe she is not aided by any form of stage design, instead relying on a most impressive stamina.

© Bill Cooper

Dominating Act II are the Wilis, the spirits of women wronged by the betrayal of their lovers. They seek their revenge when the moon is at its height, dancing with the men until their death from exhaustion. The diaphanous fabric of the Wilis’ veils is perfectly illuminated in the dim lighting of the graveyard, forming spectacular illusions and creating an overall sinister tone. The ease of movement and coordination of the Wilis en masse is truly captivating as they float in and out of their pas de bourrées. Through their characterisation, the Wilis take as prisoners the souls of punishable men, obstructing their freedom through strong and assertive movements.

A classic tenet of balletic tragedy is the love triangle, with Count Albrecht (Césaar Morales) and Hilarion (Kit Holder) completing that of Giselle. The two dancers are exquisite as they dissolve into Hirata’s movements, forming a seamless dynamic despite the fundamental differences between the three characters.

© Bill Cooper

This Giselle does not attempt to challenge convention or modernise traditional ballet. Rather, it is able to provoke sensitivity, passion and power in capturing the emotional transcendence that is core to Giselle, and bring to life an important work in the history of classical ballet.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor

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