Coliseum, London

Dance review - The Mikhailovsky Ballet: Giselle


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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London