Giselle by The English National Ballet at the Coliseum

In the tradition of classical ballet, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella come to mind. The fairy tales are interpreted into a magical spectacle, their heroines shining through the embellished décor and twirling around in their shimmery tutus. The triumphant score by Tchaikovsky promises the spectator an uplifting moment, leaving their emotions high with unforgettable memories.

And then there is Giselle, in the lineage of Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake, unveiling fragility that matches the frail motions of a svelte ballerina on her toes, showing grace and beauty, but hiding dark secrets. The performance at the London Coliseum, featuring Tamara Rojo, artistic director at the English National Ballet, is a delight. We are kept impatient from the moment the orchestra leads off and the curtain rises. As in any ballet, the music which accompanies the choreography is as important as the dancers themselves. The impact of the notes is similar to each step the ballet shoes take when hitting the stage. Tonight, the English National Philharmonic musicians are conducted by Gavin Sutherland and are playing the contrasts of the score of Adolph Adam superbly. Even myself, a banal spectator, swings my head from left to right.

The curtain lifts and the coliseum is suddenly filled with the unexplainable feeling that we are in for a treat, we might never want to leave, actually. Rojo makes her appearance and there’s nothing left to do but to sit back, smile, and follow her to wherever she has decided to take us. Giselle is a dual story, at times joyful at the limit of ecstatic, at other times sad and borderline disheartening. The production by Mary Skeaping gives a new texture to scenes between the couple of Giselle and Albrecht. The allegretto and the sforzando occurring in the music, the accelerating coordinated moves of the dancers and the slow encounters of the two principal leads renders the entirety of the performance like a floating manège.

It would be too obvious to only mention Rojo’s presence on the stage. Her gestures and facial expressions are divine. She not only attempts to translate into dance moves the lyrics of the story, but she seems to inhabit the character of Giselle, living and breathing every second of it. She has the experience needed for this kind of role, after all, she has been dancing all her life, but the way her feet arch and anchor themselves in the ground is not being imitated by any other dancer in this performance. Other dancers stand out too, Senri Kou is mesmerizing as one of the peasants and again in the second act as Zulma, one of the Wilis (affianced maidens who have died before their wedding-day, created by the poet Heinrich Heine who is at the origin of the story of Giselle). She demonstrates the fragile nature of her character by moving her frail body and bringing on a steady performance. She becomes a part of Giselle’s “squad” and imposes her style and presence. She will be remembered throughout the ballet. Laurretta Summerscales introduces the dark stage of Act II, where Wilis wear their bridal dresses with garlands of flowers on their heads, and shining rings on their fingers. As much as an angel can be imagined in poems and books, not a single one has materialized in real life, until Summerscales interpretation of Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis. Her confidence exults, and her beauty shines as she dances, swirling and twirling with branches in her hands, leaving behind her a stardust trail escaping from the layers of tulle which are moving airily around her body. Her divine apparition is enhanced by the fog of the forest and the harp playing in the background. She moves slowly, twirling on herself, opening her arms in a circle, and inviting us to discover the arabesque theme which will be danced again throughout this act by the other Wilis.

This performance is a jewel. Intense due to the roughness of its story, and magnificent due to the reflections of the dancers on the eyes of their spectators.

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