Coliseum, London

Dance review - The Mikhailovsky Ballet: Giselle

4.00

You dodge the violent politics of Russian ballet only to end up in a chocolate-box 'Giselle'. Never mind, just jump for joy

Something's rotten in the state of Russian ballet. That much is clear from news reports (and we surely haven't heard the last) of simmering resentments and violent recriminations at the Bolshoi. Yet the outcome for audiences isn't all negative. Eighteen months ago the Moscow company's starriest young couple resigned, declining to give a reason, and signed new contracts in St Petersburg – not, as you'd expect, with the Bolshoi's giant rival, the Mariinsky, but with the city's second-tier ballet outfit, the Mikhailovsky, run by the fruit magnate Vladimir Kekhman. The result is his company's sudden elevation to must-see status on what is only its third visit to London.

Giselle was a canny choice of season opener, given the technical and interpretive challenges of its title role – a great showcase for a great ballerina. As the oldest ballet still in circulation, it asks for soft arms, fluttering toes, and an overall sense of thistledown drift, as if every move were mediated by woodland mist. And yet it takes a dance athlete to negotiate the show-off steps added by Marius Petipa in the 1880s, half a century after the ballet's premiere, and a fine dance-actress to straddle the role's dramatic contrasts. In the first half we must see a quick and lively girl deceived in love; in the second, a loving, grieving ghost.

Most ballerinas are stronger in one act than the other, but Natalia Osipova, at 26 hardly a veteran of the role, meshes the effects of both. She finds patches of darkness in Act I that hint not just at her character's fatal heart defect, but also at her future reincarnation as a Wili, one of the vengeful spirits of jilted girls who roam the forest at night. In the second half, she finds glimmers of physical memory that connect the wraith to the former life. While honouring the story's every detail, she has thoroughly re-thought the role.

The pity is that this five-year-old production is following a more basic script. On Vyacheslav Okunev's Disneyfied set, tourist-board madchen in matching pinnies indulge in old-school rhubarb. When a hunting horn sounds, each puts a hand to her ear. When someone asks, where Giselle is, each shakes her head and shrugs. The hunting party are cardboard aristos, Giselle's mother a cliché of hand-wringing concern, the rejected suitor a cartoon wimp. Even the love-offering of game he hangs on Giselle's cottage door looks like flattened squirrel.

Just as dismaying is the patchy logic in the production's use of mime. On the one hand there is clear and nicely nuanced work from Roman Petukhov as the Count's valet, showing his reluctance to play a part in his master's amorous prank, passing himself off as a local lad in order to bag a pretty girl. The position is rarely so clearly stated and for once makes a printed synopsis unnecessary. But on the other hand the traditional extended mime, in which Giselle's mother creepily explains all about the Wilis, is gone leaving 16 bars of goose-pimpling music high and dry.

In the White Act there is less to meddle with. Even so, the moonlit glade comes with levitating trees, a comedy feature I put down to faulty electrics on opening night. But no, on the second night, too, a downstage bush displayed odd behaviour during the Queen of the Wilis' solo. Yet the minute Osipova's Giselle appears by her gravestone, the entire set might collapse and we would remain in her thrall. There were audible gasps as she delivered, ferociously fast, the strange flat-of-the-foot turns, a corpse spinning off its mortal coil into ether.

From then on, Osipova distils her dancing into a stream of pure feeling, pleading for her cheating lover to be spared the Wilis' punishment of dancing till he drops dead. Refinement of technique is her argument for clemency, and she bends every sinew to her task. Her quick, softly cushioned jump, her pliant line, wreathed like smoke, the deliciously slow unfolding of her body in a series of supported tiptoe hops, as close to human flight as the 1830s could conceive – all is made possible by the partnering of Ivan Vasiliev.

He, unlike she, is imperfectly built, square-ish, with bulky thighs hardly flattered by tan tights that make you think of ham in breadcrumbs. But that's all forgotten when, driven by remorse and grief, Vasiliev sets out his own stall as a technician. Ricocheting from jump to impossibly high, twiddle-toed jump, and rattling off a demonic sequence of beetling brisés, he seems a perfectly plausible candidate for death by dancing.

And don't suppose that the former Bolshoi pair are the only reason to see the Mikhailovsky. Giselle's second cast leads were scarcely less appealing. In fact Polina Semionova and Denis Matvienko are a more obvious match, particularly in the first half when her sunny ingénue and his arrogant charmer seem particularly well poised for tragedy. These two shone, too, in the simpler steps: "like two peas" was the phrase that came to mind, as you witnessed the very moment that liking turned to love, as they fell in together side by side.

Given that both sets of principals are set to front other ballets, including new works, in the Mikhailovsky season, ballet fans are faced with a difficult choice.

Season continues until 7 April (020-7845 9300)

Critic's Choice

How to impart a taste for dance to the under-sevens? English National Ballet is on to it. My First Cinderella tells everyone's favourite rags-to-riches story in a carefully adapted version by George Williamson, performed by young dancers from ENB's own school. Prokofiev's glittering score is accompanied by narration to ensure that no one is in any doubt as to what's going on. Peacock Theatre, London, to Sun, 7 April, then touring till the end of May.

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game