My first Theatre Bloggers outing of the year involved a trip to the Hawth Theatre, Crawley, a bit further away than I normally travel (it’s about half an hour south of London) but a pleasant venue with a modern and comfortable auditorium. I was there to see the St Petersburg Classic Ballet perform Giselle, a nineteenth-century Romantic ballet that is one of the few such ballets to still be performed today.
Giselle is the tale of a village girl who falls in love with Count Albrecht, who has hidden his true identity from her and claims to be a fellow peasant named Loys. Once she discovers who he really is, and that he is already betrothed to another, she dies of a broken heart. Giselle becomes one of the Wilis, spirits of young women who have been jilted, and who dance all men they come across to death. When Count Albrecht crosses their path, only Giselle’s forgiveness and interception can save him, and allow her to rest in peace.
Librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier created the ballet after reading about the Wilis in De l’Allemagne by Heinrich Heine, and a poem called “Fantômes” in Les Orientales by Victor Hugo.The ballet was first performed in Paris in 1841, with music composed by Adolphe Adam. This production, directed by Marina Medvetskaya, is a traditional one and unlike many touring ballets it boasts a live orchestra: the Hungarian Sinfonietta.
The first act was a beautiful ballet in a rural setting, with gentle humour and appealing characters. Natalia Romanova made a charming Giselle, with Vadim Lolenko very good as the dashing Albrecht. I also liked Hilarion, the village gamekeeper, danced by Evgeniy Silakov. With his red hair and beard he really stood out, and I found him one of the most interesting characters in the piece, his jealousy contributing to Giselle’s discovery of Loys’ true identity and her subsequent death.
The second was very different in tone, an eerie, beautiful moonlight setting in which Yuliya Yashina shone as Myrtha, the aloof and commanding Queen of the Wilis. There was some really beautiful dancing in this act and Romanova’s performance as Giselle stood out.
I thoroughly enjoyed Giselle and with its straightforward story and impressive choreography it would be an ideal introductory ballet for someone new to the art form. It is also charming enough to appeal to the more seasoned ballet-goer. Definitely recommended.