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Giselle – Moscow City Ballet – Opera House, Manchester

Music: Adolphe Adam

Version &Direction: Victor Smirnov-Golovanov

Choreography: Jules Perrot, Jean Correli, Marius Petipa, Leonid Lavrovsky, Victor Smirnov-Golovanov

Reviewer: Peter Jacobs

Giselleis one of the few surviving ‘white’ Romantic ballets, first performed in Paris in 1841, created by Jules Perrot and Jean Correli. Much of their version apparently survives, augmented by the 1884 production by the legendary Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg.

A ballet of two distinct acts,Gisellebegins in a picturesque Rhine Valley village. The villagers are celebrating the grape harvest and visit a different house each day to taste the new wine. At Giselle’s house, the innocent but frail maiden is successfully wooed by Albrecht, a Count who has disguised himself as a simple huntsman, although his attraction to Giselle is genuine. Hilarion, a local lad, also in love with Giselle, mistrusts the stranger and tries to intervene but love and mutual attraction repel his intervention. The villagers arrive at Giselle’s house, followed by the Duke of Courland and his hunting party, among them Bathilde, the noblewoman to whom Albrecht is formally betrothed. Despite her mother’s fears for her health, Giselle dances and is crowned Queen of the Vine and given a token by Bathilde, unware they are rivals. After much dancing and coming and going, Hilarion matches the crest on Albrecht’s hidden sword with that on the Duke’s hunting horn and when Bathilde and Albrecht come face to face and she greets him as her suitor Hilarion is able to expose the truth of Albrecht’s duplicity to Giselle. She does not take it well and, overcome, with madness and despair, dies, to the horror of everyone present.

Act two is set in a ghostly forest in the dead of night and is the supernatural world of the Wilis: the ethereal spirits of maidens who died broken-hearted, ruled over by their icily beautiful queen, Myrtha. The Wilis haunt the forest in search of unsuspecting men who venture within, who are then forced to dance to their death in revenge for their broken hearts. At Giselle’s grave, Hilarion waits, guilt-stricken at his rôle in her death. Alarmed by the spirits, he runs deeper into the forest. Albrecht arrives, also broken-hearted. The Wilis catch up with Hilarion and force him to dance to his death. They then capture Albrecht, but Giselle defies Myrtha, and although unable to resist the command of her queen to dance, is able to protect Albrecht enough that he survives until dawn, when the spirits must retreat. He is redeemed by love and Giselle drifts off into the darkness to eternal peace.

Moscow City Ballet was formed in 1988 by the late-choreographer and former-Bolshoi dancer Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, with the aim of bringing the glories of classical Russian ballet to new and younger audiences. In the twenty-five-years-plus since, they have become one of the world’s leading touring ballets, resolutely retaining – and freshening a little – the great Classical ballets.

This production ofGiselleis very traditional – not necessarily a bad thing. Adolphe Adam’s score is well-played live by the Moscow City Ballet orchestra, conducted by Igor Shavruk. The sets are colourful and substantial and sufficiently layered to give real depth and substance to their heavy painted fabric and gauze. The village is pretty. The forest is actually rather beautiful: eerie and dreamlike. On this viewing, the strength of the company lies in its soloists. Liliya Orekhova is rather wondrous as Giselle: incredibly light on her feet with lovely balance and extensions. Her Giselle is plausibly innocent and vulnerable in the village scenes. Her moment of madness is wonderfully played as her hair is let down, her beautiful lines become broken and her stricken face reveals the horror that is to come. The autumnal light cleverly changes and Giselle becomes tinged with blue, a suggestion of the transition that is to come. As the spirit Giselle, she is serene and haunted, with gorgeously languid arms and flickering movements; she becomes weightless as Albrecht lifts her again and again. Daniil Orlov is likeable as the unwittingly interfering Hilarion. His final dances are especially good. Albrecht is a hard character to like but Talgat Kozhabaev plays him very straight and unfussily, and he partners Orekhova beautifully. Finally, Ekaterina Tokareva is impressive as Myrtha. Steely yet beautiful and cruel, her demanding choreography – some of which looks to have been intended for a male dancer – is managed with great style, from her opening smooth, gliding bourées to the leaping solos.

Where the MCB become a little unglued is in the corps de ballet, who are not the most together bunch. Perhaps constrained by the number of dancers on a relatively small stage, during the village dances there was a definite whiff of Les Trocks, the all-male company that lovingly spoof Classical ballet. The male company are also a mismatched lot, but as they are mostly required to stand, hand on hip or arms crossed, randomly waving one arm in a kind of hard to resist ‘tadaah!’ this perhaps matters little. The corps were a lot more impressive as the ghostly Wilis. Their choreography is deceptively demanding.

There is a sense that if one were sat in the theatre in 1955 or 1965 or 1975 you would be seeing the exact same thing, so the company are navigating that fine line between traditional and old-fashioned that is the dichotomy of Classical ballet. The Birmingham Royal Ballet, for example, somehow make their traditional productions look modern. Bu there is sufficient quality in the production design, the effective lighting, the pretty costumes (by Elisaveta Dvorkina) and especially the soloists, that Moscow City Ballet are on the right side of that line with theirGiselle, which is entertaining, delightful, narratively clear and above all, affecting.

The company performSwan Lake27-28 March

Music: Adolphe Adam Version &Direction: Victor Smirnov-Golovanov Choreography: Jules Perrot, Jean Correli, Marius Petipa, Leonid Lavrovsky, Victor Smirnov-Golovanov Reviewer: Peter Jacobs Giselleis one of the few surviving ‘white’ Romantic ballets, first performed in Paris in 1841, created by Jules Perrot and Jean Correli. Much of their version apparently survives, augmented by the 1884 production by the legendary Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg. A ballet of two distinct acts,Gisellebegins in a picturesque Rhine Valley village. The villagers are celebrating the grape harvest and visit a different house each day to taste the new wine. At Giselle’s house,…

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