Russian State Ballet of Siberia present a chilling and heart-rending tale of love, treachery and forgiveness from beyond the grave.
New Theatre, Mon 16th - Tue January 17th 2012

January 17, 2012
Giselle is a lovely, quirky ballet. It's short - only 2 acts. Its first half involves a formal stylised mime and hardly any flourishing dance. Nor are there hour-long interludes for "a selection of peasant dances from different countries". In short it feels less like a series of set pieces and more like someone wanted to tell a story.

Truth be told there isn't much story either: Hans loves Giselle but even though he has the best boots Giselle loves Loys. When Loys turns out to be Count Albrecht in disguise, and promised to another, Giselle dies of eloquent grief and madness. This is where it gets interesting as Giselle joins a group of spirits called, rather charmingly, Wilis, who are all girls who were betrothed but died before they could marry. They lurk in the woods luring men to dance until they die of exhaustion.

The Wilis are a genius idea for a ballet, both aesthetically and ideologically. They provide an excuse for the 20-strong female corps de ballet to dress in diaphenous white dresses which make amazing shapes in silhouette. And anyone can believe there should be a special place for a maiden betrothed but dying too soon - where her funeral gathering feels like it should be her wedding. The haughty Myrtha Queen of the Wilis won't let Giselle join in until she has proved herself by killing a few chaps, dismissing her with "talk to the hand cos the Corps de Ballet ain't listening" gestures.

Anne Aulle danced Giselle with great expression. She was utterly luminous - dazed with grief, happy in love or dead and ethereal. She seemed to be constantly in motion with each pose seeming the arc of a movement, as subtle as the moment the tide turns. She made it seem as if there was all the time in the world to fit in all her steps.

While the first half doesn't look so technically difficult (what do we know?), the second half really does. Now Giselle's dead her dancing gets slower, highlighting her strength and technical control. Here's one to try: stand with one leg in front of you, all your weight on the back leg (bent if necessary). Bend over along your front leg, hands on your ankle. Now straighten your back leg and raise your front leg and arms together as high as they'll go, and hold. (Prima Ballerinas are doing the splits at this point.) If you're not in agony yet try again at half the speed.

Stunned as I was by the second half I did want to meddle with the plot, for a start reversing the fates of Count Albrecht and Hans-with-the-boots. But perhaps that would be a little too Carry On Up The Proles for an elitist medium like ballet performed by a former communist country in a decadent western theatre. I urge you to go and be decadent while you have the chance!
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