Heartbreak, vengeful ghosts, love lasting beyond death. The 19th-century ballet Giselle, choreographed after Perrot and Coralli, offers dancing and narrative steeped in Romanticism. In this revival, the Royal Ballet is on grandly confident form, making fleet-footed peasants or icily cruel wraiths. Only Giselle herself, the first-cast Tamara Rojo, looks out of place in this world of mists and harvests. Giselle is a village maiden, an innocent who falls in love with a disguised nobleman, then goes mad and dies when she finds he has lied to her.
Rojo, a naturalistic dancer, approaches her roles dramatically: this is a logical, literal-minded performance. She finds some vivid moments in Giselle, standing stock still when the news breaks, frozen in shock as the villagers scurry around her. There are other touches of insight: Rojo's nervousness at dancing for the visiting hunting party, her care as she wipes a goblet for an aristocratic guest. Yet these details don't become a unified whole. Rojo misses the heart of Giselle, her vulnerability and delight in dancing.
Rojo's technique is strong, but she lacks pure classical line, while her attention is on the acting side of things. Her hops on pointe are firm, not joyful. Nor does she have the lightness for the second act, when Giselle returns as a Wili, one of the ghosts of betrayed women who will dance men to death.
Carlos Acosta's Albrecht is all about the dancing. Acosta isn't one of nature's cads: his wide smile and friendly air make it hard to believe in his callousness. But he dances with softness and control. He flows through the peasant dances, then soars and turns at the Wilis' command.
The Queen of the Wilis, Zenaida Yanowsky, moves with chilly grandeur, anger and authority in each sweep of her long limbs. Around the leading couple, the Royal Ballet gives an impressive performance. Like Rojo, Peter Wright's production tends to naturalism. It gains power from the company's newly high dancing standards. As Wilis, the corps de ballet are implacably precise, with fresh resolve in their soft pliés and skimming jumps. The villagers lilt and sway through their dances. Leading the peasant pas de six, Belinda Hatley dances her solo with lively musical contrast. Boris Gruzin conducts an uneven account of Adam's score, building up warm texture, then thumping away.
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