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Birmingham Royal Ballet


by David Mead

June 27, 2008 -- Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK

That “Giselle”, now 167 years old, remains one of the best loved ballets says a great deal about the work, and perhaps about our own need for romantic love, spiced with a touch of the mysterious and the supernatural.  It is the epitome of romantic ballet, especially Act II, where the dancers are dressed in billowing white tutus and seem so pure.  Look at them for too long and they vanish, just like the spirits they portray.

Galina Samsova’s production for Birmingham Royal Ballet dates from 1999, and includes new designs by Hayden Griffin.  The sets are excellent.  The village of Act I is not too chocolate boxy, but the star is undoubtedly the spooky, ghostly graveyard and ruined church of Act II.  With the moon casting shadows as it shines through the broken windows, it sends a shiver down the spine as soon as the curtain rises.  It has to be said, however, that some of the hunting party’s costumes look more like brightly coloured playing cards come to life than anything you will ever see in a forest.  Most animals would spot the hideous mix of reds and yellows a mile off.

Nao Sakuma was an ideal Giselle.  In Act I she was full of life as she skipped around the stage.  Her death scene was especially impressive.  There may be no broken hearts here, but Giselle’s fragile character certainly came through loud and clear.  Having realised Albrecht’s deception she runs herself through with his sword.  With her hair down and a face that screamed passion, this was clearly a girl in torment.  Martin Lawrence clearly comes from the cool, detached school of ballet nobility.  Technically excellent, and a superb partner, while he may have loved Giselle, he always seemed rather cool, and perhaps even a little distant.  Having said that, he did seem full of remorse in Act II.

The focus of the ballet is of course on the love triangle of Giselle, Albrecht and Hilarion.  One of the highlights of Act I, however, was the joyous dancing of Momoko Hirata and Yosuke Yamomoto in the Harvest pas de deux.  These two were beautifully matched and full of bounce.  They showed just the sort of happy relationship you might have expected to see from Albrecht and Giselle.  Elsewhere, Gaylene Cummerfield was a first rate Myrtha, as she orchestrated her army of Wilis in their pursuit of Albrecht and Hilarion.

They say you should never appear with children or animals.  The Birmingham hunting party arrives complete with Bathilde on a large white horse, and two hunting dogs, one of which seemed determined to steal the show as Sakuma danced a solo.  After much looking around and a large yawn (rather an undeserved comment on proceedings, I thought), it proceeded to stretch with its back end stuck in the air towards the audience, then demanded stroking and talking to by its handler.  Maybe he or she is just not a ballet fan.  I’m not sure why you have to have real animals anyway, but if you’re going to, you have to have all live animals.  Although the horse and dogs were real enough, the hunting bird was decidedly stuffed.

But that’s a minor aside and shouldn’t take away from what was a highly enjoyable performance, told with great clarity.  After the relatively poor houses for the recent visit of the Kirov, it was great to see the huge Hippodrome auditorium almost full for ballet once again.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Paul Murphy.

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