The Hazards of Love – Giselle Review

Giselle is a ballet that perfectly balances dance and narrative. Audiences are captivated in particular by its timeless second act, a living and breathing example of the Romantic ideal: on one side the revengeful, supernatural Wilis and on the other the ethereal Giselle whose love for Albrecht transcends heartbreak and death.

The leading role has been a rite of passage for many ballerinas, but Albrecht also presents a substantial opportunity for the danseur. Both characters are complex enough to allow artists to explore personal interpretations (and for this reason the mature performers are  generally the ones who captivate me the most). This season Sergei Polunin – the Royal Ballet’s youngest Principal dancer – has been chosen to dance Albrecht and his debut last week created a buzz among Covent Garden regulars.

Sergei Polunin as Albrecht and Roberta Marquez as Giselle in The Royal Ballet's production of Giselle. Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH ©

The recently promoted Polunin is admired for his technique and stage presence, yet Albrecht is the first role in his repertory to test him for equal measures of bravura and drama: Albrecht’s deceitful behaviour, the weight of his conscience and subsequent  repentance are key elements that help us accept the fact that Giselle is willing to forgive and to sacrifice herself for him. Polunin’s accomplished debut indicates his commitment to characterisation, even though his Act 1 is still a work in progress. He seems thoroughly smitten with Giselle, but does not hesitate to also claim Bathilde (a regal Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani) as his own, so when the mad scene unfolds we are not clear on which side he stands; or whether he ever had any feelings at all for Giselle. His acting is clearer in Act 2 where he convinces us of Albrecht’s remorse.

Roberta Marquez is a fine Giselle of wide, tragic eyes. At first hesitant and shy when Albrecht approaches, sweet when she decides to respond to his attentions. Her springy jumps are well matched with Polunin’s impeccable variations  (incidentally, during his series of 32  entrechats -six I heard more than one gasp) and though Marquez might not be the most technically flashy of the current crop of Giselles, she gives us moments of ethereal beauty that make for a moving theatrical experience.

Sergei Polunin as Albrecht in The Royal Ballet's production of Giselle. Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH ©

If you are a fan of the ballet, you should try to see this staging by Sir Peter Wright (see cinema listings below). In my opinion it remains the most consistent account of Gautier’s libretto. The production also features John Macfarlane’s attractive designs: his Rhineland of autumnal shades, his gloomy and ominous forest in Act II add much to the poignancy of the tale.


Sir Peter Wright’s Giselle continues at the Royal Opera House until 19 February. Roberta Marquez and Sergei Polunin appear as Giselle and Albrecht tonight. For more information & booking visit the ROH website.

This production of Giselle is also being shown in cinemas worldwide. For listings visit Opus Arte’s website.

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.

7 Comments

  • January 19, 2011

    mimoblade

    Suitably chastened. It feels desperately uncharitable to complain. We are so spoiled in London and its worthwhile never forgetting it. Perhaps there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Best thing though is that there is clearly so much to look forward to in the years to come and I’m still super excited about Sergei (still remembering him stealing the show in R&J last season). However its also true that its good to savour a perfect experience if you are lucky enough to get it.

  • January 18, 2011

    Emilia

    “my problem is that I’m still not over Osipova’s Giselle in the summer: her etheral second act in which she seemed to float & fly across the stage has just left everyone else wanting for me”

    We can definitely relate Anna :) her 2nd act is something we’ll cherish for a really long time…

  • January 18, 2011

    Anna Merrick

    Fascinating we all see things so differently. I didn’t have a problem with Sergei’s acting at all. He’s obviously not up there with Johan K for subtlety & making every small dramatic gesture speak volumes but I found him a more than credible Albrecht last night (I felt he was really trying and that was nice to see) & he’s still very young. I agree with some of the comments about Roberta’s dancing – my problem is that I’m still not over Osipova’s Giselle in the summer: her etheral second act in which she seemed to float & fly across the stage has just left everyone else wanting for me (fortunately there are some small YT clips from her ABT Giselle with Hallberg to keep me going). Aside from the dancing, what the performance lacked last night for me was strong chemistry between the leads. They made all the gestures but whatever emotion there was between them simply didn’t reach me at the back of the stalls circle. I didn’t see Acosta but much as I love his dancing, dramatic tension is not something I personally ever feel from his performances.

  • January 18, 2011

    Linda

    Just to add to Emilia’s comment, I think it’s very hard to get the characterisation right when you are performing a role for the first time, and more in a role as complex as Albrecht. IMO it would be unfair to compare his portrayal to that of more experienced dancers but, as you mention, his development should be interesting to see. :)

  • January 18, 2011

    Emilia

    Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you left in the interval – I went to yesterday’s performance and also thought, as Linda noted, that Sergei had a better second act. It was great for him to have that chance while he is so young, Albrecht is such a difficult character, I always think it must be up there with James in terms of dramatic challenge.

  • January 17, 2011

    mimoblade

    I was wowed by Polunin in La Valse and was really excited to see him as Albrecht. Having seen Rojo/Acosta on Saturday, tonight it seemed like a different company altogether. Marquez lost her footing and appeared to me to fudge the last bunny hops all together, and the boys in the pax de six were markedly varied in quality. Just nothing, not even Polunin’s fantastic technique, could save it for me. His dramatic gestures are unconvincing and he does not manage to build up any rapport with his Giselle, not for want of trying by Marquez. If anything he was brash and pushy with her, but maybe I was too strongly affected still by the memory of Acosta’s perfect thoroughness and gentle breathless electricity and instinctive timing with Rojo – none of that was there tonight. Not wanting to destroy that memory, I left at the interval (thank goodness for standing tix) but, it would be nice to hear if anyone thought it got better in the second act. I look forward to seeing him develop but in the meantime for dramatic tension there is still no one at the RB to match Kobburg or Acosta….

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