Review: Giselle (English National Ballet, London Coliseum)
Alina Cojocaru impresses in this revival of Mary Skeaping's production
When people ask me why I go to the ballet, it is because I am waiting for a night like this – a performance where dance, story-telling and emotion come together to overwhelming effect.
What makes this revival of Mary Skeaping's traditional version of a 19th century classic doubly remarkable is that it is being performed by English National Ballet hot on the heels of last year's radical rethinking of the work by Akram Khan, which took its Romantic notions and transformed them into a revelatory parable of love and loss across the class.
Having imbibed the lessons of that towering reworking, the entire company bring a heartfelt understanding to this most authentic of versions, mounted for the company in 1971 but closely modelled on the 1841 original. They make it seem real – and utterly absorbing.
At its centre is Alina Cojocaru as Giselle, a peasant girl betrayed by an aristocratic bounder. She is one of the great Giselles of our age, bringing a truth to her portrayal that makes it heartbreaking from her first tentative steps towards Isaac Hernández's Albrecht. The detail of her acting is as perfect as the lightness of her dancing; when the couple dance together, tracing their steps gently on the floor, blowing each other kisses, it is as if they are talking. You can hear the words they aren't saying.
When she hides from her mother, she leans into his body in a rapture of love. Her passion embarrasses her; she hides her face. Hernández in contrast is an attractive young man having a good time; when his perfidy is revealed, he puts his hands behind his back, as if shrugging off all responsibility. Only as Giselle descends into madness, does he realise the horror of what he has done; you can see him suddenly assume blame for her death as he squares up to his rival Hilarion over her body.
The naturalism of these central performances is beautifully supported by the surrounding cast, who find detail even in the dusting of a chair. Jane Haworth as Giselle's distraught mother makes mime as clear as speech, Rina Kanehara and Cesar Corrales illuminate their duet, and Stina Quaegebeur is an unusually tender Bathilde, who reacts to her fiancé Albrecht's behaviour with as much shock as Giselle herself.
By the second act, when David Walker's pretty settings turn to a green glade, its murky depths filled with veiled, vengeful spirits, the production itself takes off into another world. Laurretta Summerscales is a terrific Myrtha, implacable yet ethereal, and the corps de ballet dance as one, both frightening and tragic, lost souls united in their desire to harm the living.
Cojocaru's unearthly grace as she protects her lover from their venom is astonishing; she seems to fly and float across the stage, her arms wreathing him in a gentle embrace. Hernández matches her in technique, with light, easy jumps, but also in intensity. Together they move as if in a trance, absorbed in one another reluctant to part. She makes the steps like a feeling, enfolding him in her love. It is dancing of exquisite artistry. A wonder worth waiting for in a pitch-perfect production.
Giselle runs at the London Coliseum until 22 January.