Giselle belongs to the team of ballets we could watch over and over again: short & sweet (2 acts), few character dances (as compared to Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake), an engaging Romantic story blended with wonderful vintage choreography.
And it’s a real treat to be able to cherry pick so many great pairings in this current run at The Royal Ballet. In fact it was so difficult to narrow down choices that we ended up seeing a whopping 6 out of 8 pairings. We don’t do that very often.
But which did we like best? As it turned out, each of these couples offered something interesting in terms of chemistry or interpretive choice, allowing us to see this classic again and again with fresh eyes. So even though we cannot love all performances in equal measure (no prizes for singling out our favorites below!), we found lots to notice and to enjoy in each pair:
Happy and Bleeding*
Marianela Nuñez & Carlos Acosta
Marianela’s first ever Giselle was just the thing for those who need a multi-tasking ballerina: equally perfect turns, jumps and balances. Marianela’s supernatural technical abilities jump out from the first long held attitude, spanning from incredibly musical hops on pointe in Act 1 (during Giselle’s trademark variation) to perfectly still balances and monster jetés in Act 2. All this without a hint of strain, it was hard to believe she had not danced the role before. Carlos offers an assured yet subtle Albrecht, whilst we tend to prefer them more passionate. But the issue for us was Marianela’s portrayal of Giselle as a happy girl with a kilometric smile. We wondered: why would such a contented, sunny creature go mad or want to stab herself?
The Desperate Kingdom of Love*
Tamara Rojo & Rupert Pennefather
Tamara Rojo’s dramatic intelligence is evident from the way she frames her believable Giselle: a shy, frail girl discovering the lure and danger of love. It seems as if this Giselle suspects Albrecht might be “too good to be true” and when her instincts prove her right, her emotional fragility takes over. We thought Pennefather, debuting as Albrecht, was a very good match for Rojo, he belongs to the team of “dreamer Albrechts” who love Giselle and are torn between desire and the need to observe social boundaries. His solid technique elegantly got him through act 2. Rojo’s own dancing was magical, particularly in Giselle’s variation where she substituted the usual piqué turns with a fiendish sequence of pirouettes en dedans & en dehors (watch Tamara do this at 2:02 in this amateur video). Oh and those lush balances were – literally – to die for.
The Darker Days of Me and Him*
Leanne Benjamin & Edward Watson
Leanne and Ed’s Giselle was always going to be the most markedly different. Both draw on their strong dramatic skills rather than technical feats to portray an almost Victorian-Gothic tale, think meek Jane Eyre spellbound by domineering Mr. Rochester. Watson is a seductive Albrecht, very aware of the powerful grasp he has on Giselle, who on the other hand knows her place and is self-conscious of her humble background (especially in the scenes with Bathilde, watch how Benjamin argues the case for dancing over a taste for fine clothes). Giselle’s mad scene is anger with hints of hurt pride.
Sharp contrasts between the two acts are used to bring their characterizations full circle – if in the first an imperious, proud Albrecht is calling the shots, in the second he learns a lesson in humility, with no choice but submit to Myrtha’s command and to the redeeming powers of ghost-like Giselle. Personal imprints are also woven into the drama – Albrecht, arriving at Giselle’s grave, is instantly aware of the “supernatural”. Watson lowers his working leg to the ground, shaping a long yearning line (his forte) which he slowly draws up, as if willing Giselle to rise out of her grave – There is a continuous flow of dancing from Benjamin in Act 2, she hovers musically throughout and seems to dissolve to Albrecht’s touch like the dried ice onstage. Like Cojocaru & Kobborg’s, here’s another Giselle crafted with alchemy. Fascinating.
Lauren Cuthbertson & Rupert Pennefather
Our last Giselle was the lovely Lauren Cuthbertson, another debutante. She created a Romantic, innocent Giselle, showing the full dimension of her heartbreak in the mad scene. Rupert seemed on even better physical form in this fourth performance (2 with Rojo & 2 with Cuthbertson), with more elevation, adding more entrechats and extra finishing touches to his solos. Albrecht is a role which seems to showcase his full potential as an elegant danseur. Lauren’s best dancing, after a more technically restrained Act 1, came when she is initiated as a Wili: spinning beautiful attitude turns on Myrtha’s (Laura McCulloch, our favourite Queen Wili of the run) command to “fly” and floating on a cloud of dance with her light jetés, just like she does when she dances in Balanchine’s Serenade. Albrecht was swooning, love was in the air.
See also our 2 previous reviews:
Leanne Benjamin & Johan Kobborg reviewed here
Alina Cojocaru & Johan Kobborg reviewed here
*One singer fits all: In keeping with our editorial choice of using rock songs to illustrate ballet and its many moods, indie music lovers will note we have assigned to each of these Giselle pairings a different song by Brooding-queen PJ Harvey.