Birmingham Royal Ballet
20 June 2013
The instincts behind the creation of BRB’s 1999 Giselle were good – to create, in David Bintley’s words, a “proper Giselle” with a realistic village in act 1 and 19th century theatrical supernatural effects in Act 2. And to restore some of the music too – always interesting.
And indeed you get a bustling village inhabited by real people and real children (from Elmhurst) and a hunting scene with a real horse (if the hunting dogs of the premiere are no longer used). Hayden Griffin’s designs are resolutely traditional with the village – clearly a rich place: Giselle’s mother appears to operate the local Travelodge, so large is her house – set in deepest Bavaria amidst towering mountains and glistening waterfall in the background. The costumes delight, being a little brighter than those found in many BRB classical productions.
All good ingredients, but for the first time I can recall it seemed like BRB just had too few dancers to do a production justice. The hunting scene should be all bustle as a large hunt and village mix together and yet here there were only 14 dancers on stage, including Giselle – it has a really threadbare look that no horse alone can compensate for. The act goes on with the grape pickers’ scene and here BRB look back up to full strength, and good dancing from the corps, too.
Act 2 has more great design including the sheerest gauze veils for the Wilis which they wear for longer than in other productions, to good ghostly effect. There are also flying Wilis, including Giselle in the final moments – unusually rising to heaven. And again there is good dancing from the corps. Elsewhere dancing and particularly acting was rather hit and miss. William Bracewell (rightly tipped very highly for the future) did well in his solos, pushing his boundaries to the max as part of the Harvest pas de deux, but his partnering of Angela Paul was pretty rustic as he still learns his trade. Marion Tait as Berthe (Giselle’s mother) gave an object lesson in subtle acting and Yvette Knight was a believable Bathilde also. But The Duke was played like a market trader just out of the pub, Wilfred was all camply-embarrassed teenager and the leader of the hunt seemed to take his acting cues from “Tim Nice-But-Dim” – I overemphasise but none were really believable souls, robbing the production of some of its realism.
Giselle was led out by Nao Sakuma, with Jamie Bond and Mathias Dingman as Albrecht and Hilarion. Bond is a fine classical dancer and has particularly good legs and feet – fast and accurate. A good partner, if perhaps not naturally ardent. Dingman’s Hilarion is true to the man – well meaning and agricultural of manner. But in what seemed like classic matinee casting (of testing people in new roles etc) there was a jewel of a performance from Nao Sakuma. Her movement is beautifully musical, weighted and controlled – she hardly ever needs to do adjustments, so precise is she. And as an actress her huge eyes tell all and her mad scene really got to me in a way few do.
All up Sakuma and Tait really made the trip worthwhile but 14 years into its life this Giselle looks like it could be usefully revised in act one and generally the virtues of British ballet in terms of dance acting could be strengthened for some younger dancers. But in such a mixed bag I must do a shout for Paul Murphy and the orchestra – such power and shade when needed, it’s a score they know and deliver with aplomb.