Dance: Mimes that chime

GISELLE THE BOLSHOI BALLET, LONDON COLISEUM/ THE ROYAL BALLET, SADLER'S WELLS, LONDON

THE CONCLUSION, after nearly falling off my seat with shock from the set designs, is that the Bolshoi Ballet's new production of Giselle is not a radical rethink at all. (That will come later, with its Swan Lake.) Instead, the Bolshoi Theatre's artistic director, Vladimir Vassiliev, has made a few changes in the first act that chime in with Peter Wright's production of Giselle for the Royal Ballet, on stage a couple of miles away at Sadler's Wells.

But the addition of a dance for Giselle's rough-cut suitor, Hilarion, is as welcome as central heating in the present sauna-conditions of the Coliseum. He and his flanking Rhineland friends shake tambourines, which had me wondering about cultural accuracy, but then tambourines feature in contemporary engravings of the ballet. Peasants, it seems, have always been interchangeable: as long as they rollick and caper who cares if they are transplanted Italians?

That apart, then, the two versions are choreographically not so different, but the presentation is. Sergei Barkhin's stylised Bolshoi sets are so pale in the first act they look lightly dusted with snow, despite the warm autumnal day; while the second nocturnal act might be set in a Caribbean jungle. Hubert de Givenchy's costumes, though, are attractive and especially chic for the Duke's hunting party, much better than the Royal Ballet's over-the-top ducal assortment.

As for the performances, the Bolshoi scores highest for the general discipline and clarity of its dancing. But what always disappoints with Russians is the way they perform mime. It is not just that there is less of it, but that it comes across asartificial and vague. Hands stroke the air in generalised wavings and flourishes that could mean anything; detail and precision are absent. Is it that Russian ballet has forgotten how to do mime? Or is it that British training has, over the decades, refined it to a vividly explicit and dramatic medium?

Sylvie Guillem and Laurent Hilaire, guesting with the Royal Ballet, are quintessential French dancers, but were also superlative in their mime and naturalistic acting. They are a long-standing stage partnership and interact wonderfully. They have pondered and extended their roles, introducing new touches so that suddenly Giselle and Albrecht slough off the staleness of accumulated interpretations to appear fresh and alive again. Hilaire, impossibly handsome, strikes just the right note of autocratic elegance and infatuation: how well-observed, for example, when Berthe mimes her warning about Wilis, for him to be more occupied with the warmth of Giselle's skin and only half able to conceal his contempt at Berthe's uneducated superstition. And then there is Guillem's Giselle, the horrifying stillness of her mad scene contrasting with her former vitality, where joy of life is synonymous with joy of dancing.

Guillem dances so effortlessly, so naturally, her body is so exactly responsive she can produce inflections and subtleties of movement that no one else can. There is simply far more in an enchainement danced by her. The Bolshoi's Giselle, Svetlana Lunkina, had an elfin face, fine- drawn physique, and suitably high-strung air. Her dancing was as light and perfect as possible, but she is just not a phenomenon as Guillem is. Sergei Filine as Albrecht, equally good-looking, was a polished partner and stylish, if not stunningly virtuosic, dancer.

The Bolshoi, like the Paris Opera Ballet, is exceptional for its array of men, where other companies have problems finding men who can dance, let alone look good. Without the darkly dashing Nikolai Tsiskaridze in the title part of Paganini, added as an opener to Giselle, the banal and dated choreography would have been less bearable. The late Leonid Lavrovsky was the choreographer who created it in 1960 to Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Highly esteemed back home and known here for his sensational Romeo and Juliet (which is performed by the Kirov Ballet), in Paganini he presents an evocation of the violinist's life which is exhausting in its whirl of pirouettes, muses (led by the ethereal Nina Kaptsova) and tormentors.

Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells to 31 July. Booking: 0171 863 8000

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits