Giselle, Royal Ballet, London

Madness of a betrayed waif lifts an uneven revival out of quaint prettiness
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Alina Cojocaru's first Giselle, in 2001, was an event. It's one of the great ballerina roles, a peasant girl betrayed by her aristocratic lover before going mad, dying, returning as a ghost. It obviously suits Cojocaru's waif physique, dramatic focus and light jump, and she was promoted to principal at the end of that first performance.

All those qualities were there on the first night of this revival, but the performance didn't take off until the mad scene. Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, dancing her lover Albrecht, were on uneven, blunted form. The acting was always scrupulous, the dancing neat, but not enough to lift the ballet out of quaint prettiness.

Peter Wright's production doesn't encourage romantic intensity. Between the messily encroaching forest and Giselle's mother's logpile, John F Macfarlane's sets only just leave room to dance. The peasants go dutifully through the celebration of the new vintage, with no sweep or buoyancy to the corps dances. (Laura Morera, leading the peasant pas de six, was a sharp and welcome exception.) The orchestra had a bad night under Boris Gruzin, with brass sometimes hoarse, percussion always melodramatic.

With Cojocaru's mad scene, her performance came together. When she pulls her hair down, looking with clouded gaze through wisps of hair, she carries her small head more loosely. Her broken gestures are clearer than the small, neat acting of the first scenes, projected more strongly.

In the second act, the ghostly Giselle protects her lover from the wilis, vengeful spirits of jilted girls who died before their wedding day. These are the ballet's great corps scenes, but Wright's naturalistic production doesn't show off those dances. The lines of wilis can be implacable, a collective and cumulative force.

Cojocaru improved throughout the second act. Her line becomes more fluid, weightlessly smooth. Kobborg matches her for lightness and speed. Some patchiness remains, they break the act into different dramatic sections rather than building from one dance to the next.

As Myrtha, queen of the wilis, Mara Galeazzi was strong in her fast allegro dances, but weakened when she slowed down. Her balances were steady, but her line isn't grand enough for those held poses. As Hilarion, Giselle's peasant lover, Martin Harvey acted strongly, and the corps danced well enough to make me wish they had a more powerful production.