Giselle, English National Ballet, London Coliseum

Giselle, a drama in two acts and one protest
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The Independent Culture

It's the contradictions that stand out. This was a child-friendly ballet matinee with noise from anti-racism campaigners as well as toddlers. English National Ballet's Simone Clarke, the heroine at this performance of the romantic ballet Giselle, was recently revealed as a member of the British National Party.

Outside the London Coliseum yesterday afternoon, a small group of protesters chanted and waved placards for the cameras, jeering when they recognised BNP party members. Polite campaigners distributed anti-Clarke leaflets, while a single supporter held up a sign supporting freedom of speech. Inside, a press officer shooed journalists back on to the pavement. The box office was closed for further ticket sales. One protester did make it into the theatre, shouting during Clarke's first solo, before being shushed and then removed.

Clarke's own position is full of contradictions. Justifying herself in a recent interview, she spoke against immigration. Yet she is one of just two British principals in a company that draws its dancers from all over the world. Clarke's offstage partner is the ENB dancer Yat-Sen Chang, a Cuban immigrant with a Chinese father.

While refusing to comment on any aspect of its employees' personal lives, English National Ballet has stated its support for "the democratic right of people to mount a legal protest". Throughout this storm of publicity, the company has emphasised its pride in its ethnic and cultural diversity, pointing out that its dancers come from more than 19 countries.

And the dancing? If Clarke was fazed by the protest, she didn't let it show. This was an efficient performance, though short on interpretative depth. Giselle, created in 1841 by Perrot and Coralli, is a romantic tale of haunted forests and love after death. The heroine, a pretty peasant girl, falls in love with Albrecht, a disguised aristocrat, then goes mad and dies when she finds he has betrayed her.

Clarke has strong feet and a light, buoyant jump, but she often leaves steps uninflected. In her second solo, she moved cleanly through the tricky hops on pointe, without making them sparkle. Her strongest dramatic moment comes when she realises she has been betrayed: she waits, blank-faced, before turning away from him.

She looked more at home in the ghostly second act. Giselle becomes one of the Wilis, vengeful female spirits who force men to dance to death. Clarke bounds through the airborne steps, despite little help from her partner, the stiff-faced Dmitri Gruzdyev. The corps of English National Ballet are brisk and well-drilled, but this was a performance where half the drama happened off stage.

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