Royal Opera House
Music with memorable leitmotifs by Adolphe Adam, choreography by Marius Petipa, scenario by Gautier after Heinrich Heine, sensitive conducting by Boris Gruzin, and the Royal Ballet on top form - have we died and gone to heaven?..
Giselle - one of the most popular Romantic ballets (first performed in 1841) - usually sells out. When you have Carlos Acosta billed as Albrecht you also get queues for returns, and ecstatic cheering when he sets elegant foot on stage.
It was not Acosta who stole the show, however, but Marianela Nuñez, making her debut in a ballet of contrasting halves - a rustic fair maiden in the 'realistic' colourful first act and the supernatural 'Wili', the ghost of her former self, in the sepulchral 'white' second act - which demand both acting and dancing skills.
Nuñez's sure dancing, immaculate phrasing, and fine acting, give meaning to the inherent emotions. Acosta's entrechats are still amazing, and his charisma undimmed, but he would be the first to acknowledge that he was outshone by a rising star - the evening belonged rightfully to Nuñez.
Act One is a carefree russet-clad scene of country folk celebrating the end of the grape harvest, where Giselle is crowned queen. Her mother and Hilarion, the forester who loves Giselle, warn her against falling for Loys (Count Albrecht), but she is captivated. Hilarion unmasks him and unwittingly causes Giselle's death.
An innocent young peasant girl is deceived by a man out of her league, whose toying with her love and trust leads to her death at her own hand (in this Peter Wright 1985 production it is not only her delicate health that is broken - here her mad scene ends with her stabbing herself with Albrecht's sword).
A prologue, some say, to act two, the raison d'être of the whole ballet. Mime storytelling setting the scene for the second act, act one establishes the partnership and the characterisation.
Acosta and Nuñez are a good match: beautiful, attentive, with dazzling smiles. Character artist Gary Avis (Hilarion) is superbly convincing; Genesia Rosato (Giselle's mother) mimes clearly; Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera deserve mention in the pas de six.
A pleasing act with dancing that whets the appetite for the second.
Act Two should wring our hearts. Buried in unhallowed ground deep in the forest, Giselle's spirit joins the vengeful Wilis, who dance their earthly betrayers to death.
Silver moonlight, mist, a dank forest, shadows and apparitions in white tulle flitting through the uprooted moss-covered trees. Lighting design (Jennifer Tipton's recreated by Clare O'Donoghue) is crucial. A small grave in the corner, where Albrecht and Hilarion separately mourn their lost love, their own folly.
The Queen of the Wilis with her attendants initiates Giselle into their ranks. Hilarion is danced to his death, but Giselle spares Albrecht. Redemption and love transcend death.
Nuñez has not only to become incorporeal, weightless (Acosta's secure lifting helps), but also convey pure love and sorrow, yearning and loss. From a delighted smiling girl she must transform herself into a mature dancer, a prima ballerina. Softly, soundlessly she dances with Albrecht in body and in spirit, together and apart. The adagio is transporting.
Dawn breaks, Giselle fades away, Albrecht finds the white flower she has dropped You could have heard a flower droop moments before the well-deserved roar of approval.
Nuñez and Acosta return on 16 April, but there are a variety of partnerships to enjoy: Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, Tamara Rojo and Rupert Pennefather, Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson, Mara Galeazzi and Ivan Putrov, and more. All worth a look - all promise interesting interpretations.
In rep 6 April - 26 May 2009
Reviewer: Vera Liber