United Ukrainian Ballet: Giselle -London Coliseum, London

Reviewer: Graham Williams

Choreographer: Marius Petipa after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot  

Additional Choreographer: Alexei Ratmansky

Composer: Adolphe Adam

Orchestra: The Orchestra of the English National Opera

This production of Giselle by The United Ukrainian Ballet was always going to be unique taking place at the London Coliseum  as the Queen’s body made its way down the Mall a stone-throw away.

Prior to the ballet commencing Dr Harry Brünjes, Chairman of the English National Opera (ENO), came out to make a speech about the gravity of these events. The first of these was marked with the audience standing to hear the singing of the British national anthem with singers from the ENO, who had come in solely for this, accompanied by the resident ENO orchestra. This was something to savour, the first verse was sung with beautiful solemnity, quiet and respectful of the mourning of the Queen. The second verse’s crescendo in loud celebration and in a powerful rendition was enough to make the hairs stand on anyone’s neck for King Charles III.

The United Ukrainian Ballet has found a base at the Dutch Centre for Ukrainian Dancers where 50 Ukrainian soloists, dancers, creatives and technicians have found their way. The company profiles itself specifically to search for tradition and quality of the dancers but also with urgency with the theme of the ideological war Ukraine is facing.  Heartbreakingly, the directing choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, tells us ‘Each one has his or her own story… I have heard some are quite traumatic’. One girl returned to her city in tears unable to perform at this time. Men, initially not allowed to leave, have slowly got permission, joining late in rehearsals as there is recognition of the need to keep the world’s attention focused on Ukraine.

Alexei Ratmansky, a well-known Ukrainian choreographer and who has previously directed the Bolshoi Ballet, has gone deep into research of the original Giselle and how it was premiered in 1841, stripping away twentieth-century changes. It is a story of ever-present regret for a lost love but mostly a message of love prevailing, pertinent to the hopes of the Ukrainian people.

For this performance Giselle is played by Christine Shevchenko and Albrecht by Oleksii Tiutiunnyk. This pairing is a good one and the village scenes with all the peasants and the dancing in celebration as these two get engaged is most enjoyable and the pairing of Veronika Hordina and especially Nikita Hodyna in the Peasant Pas de Deux mid Act One is outstanding but seemed not quite so polished. For this performance the costumes and sets are generously donated by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

At the end, as the performers take their bows, the two main dancers carrying the Ukrainian flag, the ENO Orchestra plays the Ukrainian national anthem leaving most of the assembled, if not in tears, welling up. It is a highly emotional and rousing evening, cathartic even. Get tickets before it sells out.

Runs until 17 September 2022

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