Birmingham puts the passion back into Giselle

Giselle | Covent Garden, London
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The Independent Culture

What the Royal Ballet's commercial impresario billed as its "exciting summer season" has run its brief, not very exciting course and ended on Saturday with some customers asking for their money back because the advertised Darcey Bussell was not appearing. A pity, because her replacement was probably better suited to dance Giselle than Bussell.

What the Royal Ballet's commercial impresario billed as its "exciting summer season" has run its brief, not very exciting course and ended on Saturday with some customers asking for their money back because the advertised Darcey Bussell was not appearing. A pity, because her replacement was probably better suited to dance Giselle than Bussell.

Tamara Rojo is a more dramatic dancer, her movement and expressions full of meaning. Tiny, dark-haired, she has a crisp, sharp lightness that disguises her one slight drawback - feet that are often slightly clenched like a bird's claws. But it is her face that seizes the attention - vivid, lively, full of character.

Maybe in this first performance she went slightly over the top in her acting: too much emphasis on Giselle's frailty, too much violence in the mad scene. But better that than the understatement we often see. And this was an unexpected début. Rojo, due to join the Royal Ballet in September, was brought in because an injury restricts Bussell's activities. Now I look forward to seeing her with a more sympathetic partner than Inaki Urlezaga's dull, lumpy Albrecht. She would have been better off with her rival suitor, Luke Heydon's sincere Hilarion.

Miyako Yoshida, dancing Giselle earlier in the week, was luckier being cast with Johan Kobborg as her Albrecht (and another excellent Hilarion, Alastair Marriott). Yoshida and Kobborg both act clearly and intelligently without bringing much passion to the roles; both dance with bright clarity. Kobborg's Danish virtuosity draws attention to what is lacking at present in most English dancers: just look at those triple cabrioles, those swift-soaring leaps, those perfectly balanced turns.

The Royal Ballet, in spite of importing dancers, still has a way to go before really getting back its old standards. The female corps de ballet is carefully drilled, but seeing it between two Kirov seasons reveals a lack of lyricism. (The men's ensembles are less impressive, despite some strong youngsters; witness this season's miserable Firebird.) At all recent performances I have seen some soloists lacking musicality or control; it seems that whenever two or three are gathered together, at least one will be out of time or line.

One special pleasure in Act Two of Giselle has been the playing of the Birmingham-based Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Graham Bond; the sound from the orchestra pit has often been more moving than the action on stage, which is rare for ballet in this theatre.

I wish, by the way, that we were seeing these summer seasons, as in recent years, at the Coliseum, where most seats have an excellent view, rather than the Royal Opera House, where even a £60 ticket can leave you able to see no more than two thirds of the stage. Be warned.

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