Following hotly on from ENB’s latest triumph with Khan’s provocatively reimagined version of the romantic classic Giselle, the company is back performing the very same ballet. But this time it’s the traditional version produced by Mary Skeaping for the company in 1971. This production is perhaps as close as it gets to the original created in 1841 by Jean Corralli and Jules Perrot and later revised by the all-time god of classical ballet, namely Marius Petipa.
Skeaping keeps virtually all of Adolphe Adam’s original score, along with a couple of additional solos added by ballerinas over the years to show off their technique. Namely in 1932, Petipa created a solo for Olga Spessitseva in act 1 with the express purpose for Giselle to thank Bathilde for the neckless. The series of hops en pointe have tested ballerinas ever since, not least by our very own Alicia Markova who welcomed the opportunity to put her mark on this iconic moment in the ballet! The composer of this solo has been attributed to both Drigo and Minkus with historians and musicologists not in agreement!
Before curtain up on the opening night there was a buzz in the audience with an air of excitement and expectation. It was a night of firsts! Alina Cojocaru’s first ENB performance as Giselle in this production and likewise for Isaac Hernández and Fernando Bufalá in the lead roles of Albrecht and Hilarion respectively. Cojocaru had previously made Giselle a signature role having performed the role numerous times with The Royal Ballet over many years. This gothic romantic love torn tragedy is set in a German Rhineland village. Skeaping’s choreography and David Walker’s cleverly designed sets create the perfect atmosphere for the peasants to celebrate the grape harvest with gusto and style.
The story is like most love tales simple, but with intriguing twists. Giselle, a peasant girl, falls in love with Albrecht an aristrocrat in disguise who is already engaged to Bathilde the daughter of the Duke of Courland. Hilarion, a gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle and finds out that she is lovestruck with Albrecht. On finding his sword he realises Albrecht is not a commoner but a nobleman and calls the hunting party back to the village. Bathilde reveals her engagement to Albrecht. Broken hearted Giselle loses her mind and dies suddenly stunned by the betrayal. Rising as a ghost from her grave in Act 2 she is forced by the Queen of the Wilis, Mythra, to convince Albrecht to dance throughout the night until he dies. On the brink of death, Albrecht is saved by the arrival of dawn, breaking the power of the Wilis who must return to their graves. With a lasting embrace of love Giselle also returns to her grave leaving Albrecht alone with his grief.
Cojocaru brings all her experience to lead this spell-binding love story from beginning to end. She brings a delightful yet mysterious cocktail of emotions to the fore that grabs the audience, Albrecht and Hilarion in equal measures. Her purity, fragility and innocence backed with steely classical technique makes the audience feel part of the action. Brilliantly acted! Sometimes it’s a quick coy glance down or a loving look with a twinkle in the eye. Every moment has a meaning in her portrayal of this character that Cojocaru has made her own and will be remembered for decades to come. Hernández was a good Albrecht but at times it felt safe and calculated. He danced with stunning classical line and high leaps in the last act. Bufalá gave a good account of Hilarion with credible acting skills. Lauretta Summerscales danced with a radiance and assurance, and at times a spirited sensual presence, commanding her Wilis to drive and force the men to dance to death. Her jetés take flight like a galaxy of stars with mesmerisingly soft lunar landings that can only be described as cosmic! Rina Kanehara and Cesar Corrales danced a crispy clean and energetic peasant pas de deux in act 1.
Two days later Lauretta Summerscales, Xander Parish and Michaela De Prince also had debuts in the roles of Giselle, Albrecht and Mythra, Queen of the Wilis respectively. Once again the audience was treated to a special night of ballet from these young rising stars. Summerscales and Parish gave a hypnotically refreshing and youthful account of the lead roles. Summerscales is growing in stature as a ballerina. Like Marinela Nuñez across the road at Covent Garden, Summerscales radiates the joy of dance whenever she sets foot on the stage to perform. Parish should be applauded, and he was at the curtain calls, for his soaring leaps in Act 2 as he was commanded to dance to his death. With his super long limbs he gave us a Russian masterclass of how to devour one of the UK’s largest stages for classical ballet. Parish left The Royal Ballet as he was only allowed to hold a spear in the corps de ballet. Since joining The Marinsky Ballet he has come on in leaps and bounds. Returning as a Principal Guest Artist, Parish demonstrated his inner core strength and polished technique when executing soaring double assemblé taking off like a panther in full flight with deliciously soft landings in fifth position. It has to be the Russian training. Parish will, in time, develop his youthful acting skills as he gets more performances under his belt. Michaela De Prince, guesting from Dutch National Ballet gave a powerful account of Queen of the Wilis. Once again the corps de ballet should have a special mention as they have played a major role to keep ENB at the very top of the premiere league with total engagement from the peasants, royalty and Wilis. A triumphant night of classical ballet presented by ENB.