Giselle, Royal Opera House, London, review: A glowing performance by Marianela Nunez

Giselle is one of the most cherished ballerina roles and Nunez’s performance was the heart of Peter Wright’s production 

Zo Anderson
Tuesday 23 January 2018 13:21 GMT
Marianela Nunez as Giselle and Federico Bonelli as Albrecht in the ROH revival
Marianela Nunez as Giselle and Federico Bonelli as Albrecht in the ROH revival (ROH/Helen Maybanks)

Marianela Nunez makes dancing joyful. Her happiness in movement has been a hallmark of this Royal Ballet star’s career, a delight that reaches out to her audience but also helps to shape her characters. In Giselle, playing a peasant girl deceived by a nobleman, it makes her touchingly vulnerable: her happiness is so open, and so unguarded.

Giselle is one of the most cherished ballerina roles, and one of the oldest to remain in repertory. Its heroine appears first as a village girl, then – after betrayal, madness and death – as a ghost, one of the Wilis who revenge themselves on men. It’s a love story, a ghost story, but also a tale of class, sex and power. On opening night, Nunez’s glowing performance was the heart of a fine revival of Peter Wright’s production.

In the first act, Nunez balances buoyant dancing and vivid acting, always responding to the people around her. There’s a moment when she turns to find the hero Albrecht standing right behind her. Even with her back to the audience, you can see that Nunez is smitten, her surprise melting as she looks at him. In her mad scene, a wildness takes over her limbs as she replays her past.

Returning as a ghost, Nunez changes the weight of her dancing. There’s a melancholy slope to her shoulders, a pearly quality to her phrasing. Her jumps are extraordinary: as a spirit, she is both airy and earthbound, soaring up but trapped in one place.

Due to illness, Federico Bonelli replaced Vadim Muntagirov as Albrecht. His dancing is always elegant, his partnership with Nunez effortlessly smooth. His Albrecht is heedless and self-deceiving, but he could show more horror as the story unfolds, more fear at the threat of the Wilis.

The Royal Ballet Wilis are certainly fearsome. They’re both a romantic corps de ballet, with soft tulle skirts in the moonlight, and implacable, vengeful women. Moving together, they have a collective force of anger, their footwork both light and dangerously sharp. As their Queen, Tierney Heap dances with fierce, frosty authority.

This was a strong company performance. Yasmine Naghdi shone in the peasant pas de six, with delicate phrasing and a gorgeous sway to her upper body. (She’ll dance the title role later in the run – a debut to look out for.) Alexander Campbell partnered her boldly. Bennet Gartside was gruff but tender as Hilarion, the forester who is also in love with Giselle. Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Beatriz Stix-Brunell made distinctive, powerful Wilis.

Until 9 March (

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