Giselle with Benjamin and Watson, Royal Ballet, January 2011

Giselle is a jewel in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, and this production by Peter Wright carefully preserves the nineteenth century mime sequences in Act I, where Giselle’s mother warns about the legend of the wilis who will capture some carefree young fellow and make him dance to his death. The young Count Albrecht, sowing his wild oats disguised as a peasant, wins Giselle’s heart, but his wooing raises a passion that destroys her, though as a spirit in Act II she finally saves him from being destroyed by the wilis.

The Wilis in Act II, photo by Bill Cooper

As Giselle herself, Leanne Benjamin was excellent in the Act I mad scene when she learns that her lover has tricked her and betrayed his own fiancée, but her performance in Act II was really superb when, light as a feather, she invested the wraith of Giselle with a wonderfully ethereal quality. Her rejected lover Hilarion was superbly portrayed by Johannes Stepanek, showing a fine firmness and resolve in Act I, only to fall foul of forces beyond his control as the wilis dance him to death in Act II. Giselle’s lover Albrecht was danced by Edward Watson, and much though I admire him in other ballets he lacked the insouciance I associate with this role. As queen of the wilis, Itziar Mendizabal was suitably cold, but lacked the heartless dominance that should come from her big jumps and imperious stage presence.

The corps de ballet performed well in both acts, and the leading wilis Moyna and Zulme in Act II were beautifully danced by Yuhui Choe and Sian Murphy. The Act I scenes came over very well, with an excellent pas-de-six headed by Yuhui Choe and Kenta Kura, who showed his stunning talent for appearing to float in the air. Deidre Chapman gave a fine performance of the extensive mime scenes as Giselle’s mother, and Johannes Stepanek’s observations of Albrecht’s missing sword and his eventual discovery of his rival’s identity was carried through to perfection.

Good conducting by Koen Kessels, who is in the orchestra pit for all the January performances, and next week I shall report on a different cast featuring Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather. Performances with a variety of different casts continue until February 19 — for more details click here.

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