I love the idea of the new and taking the art forward, but oh, the bliss and comfort in tradition, honed over decades and beautifully delivered. Giselle is my favourite of the 19th Century ballets and I normally rave about Peter Wright’s production (for the Royal Ballet and many other companies) but English National Ballet (ENB) have Mary Skeaping’s take and it delivers the story just as well but seems less fiddly and more streamlined with it. It really is a damn’ good ballet.
As usual this Giselle is set in 18/19th century Rhineland and subtly looming over everything in Act 1 is the prince’s castle – strongly painted on the backcloth and an ever-present reminder of the social divide at the heart of this love story. The designs are by David Walker (RIP) and I love the masterly backcloths, gauzes and costumes, if the realisation of the village and Giselle’s house appear more “off the shelf” – perhaps from Lidl’s “Ye Olde Playhouse” range? Compared to the Peter Wright production that we all know and love, the first act really canters along and rather puts the lead couple more to the fore and the villagers recede. But there is a gorgeous Peasant pas de deux (Senri Kou and Guilherme Menezes, both fine) giving a good nod at tradition and the ‘need’ for such asides. But if I could change one thing in this production it would be to have a slightly larger hunting party – their arrival should be magnificent but here felt rather threadbare.
DanceTabs has already reviewed the opening night (Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernández) but I really wanted to see Elisa Badenes. A guest from Stuttgart Ballet who actually trained at the Royal Ballet School (after winning a Prix de Lausanne scholarship), Badenes impressed mightily in the 2009 final year shows where she readily handled the dramatics as well the technical side. I don’t think I was the only one to wonder why the Royal Ballet hadn’t made her an offer she couldn’t refuse and her rise from apprentice to Principal at Stuttgart has been pretty meteoric. She was paired with ENB’s rising star, Cesar Corrales, a first soloist with the company and winner of last year’s (ENB) Emerging Dancer and People’s Choice Awards. Here he was Albrecht but in the autumn Corrales made a hell of a name for himself as Hilarion in ENB’s Akram Khan version of the story.
Badenes and Corrales delivered a good professional show, if it was not the runaway success I had perhaps hoped for. They both have big jumps and I really like her expansive steps. There was a lot of demonstrable love in act 1, perhaps not always believable, and Badenes looked a very physically fit girl, so her heart problems seemed rather out of kilter at first. Corrales is a terrific actor and you can see why any girl would fall for his attentive charms. He was, though, labouring under a terrible wig (at least I think it was a wig) that looked like it was modelled on an armadillo. Quite extraordinarily rigid and hard to take your eyes off. Act 2, in the forest, looked much stronger for them as they eased into their partnership and good steps were delivered with nuanced love and care. The ENB Wilis (corps) were looking strong and I love the way they are given fast steps at times, such is their lust for urgent revenge. But the “Man of the Match” had to be the Queen of the Wilis (Myrtha) – Laurretta Summerscales – quite breathtaking in her command of the stage and command of the steps. Very impressed and I’ll go out of my way to see Summerscales again in a dramatic role. All up, the Skeaping Gisele remains an ENB jewel and smart of Tamara Rojo to give her audience 2 views of Giselle in one season – both strong and valid, if I suspect it will be the Skeaping version they will still be dancing in 20 years’ time.