Review: English National Ballet’s Giselle is Spellbinding


It doesn’t seem to matter which style of Giselle the ENB turn their talents to, the result is always exceptional. And this production of Mary Skeaping’s classic romantic ballet is worthy of every single five-star review that has been lain at its feet.

The performance I saw had Alina Cojocaru as our tragic heroine, Giselle, a lowly villager somewhere in the Rhineland who falls head over heels in love with a stranger (Isaac Hernández), only for this stranger to be the wealthy Duke, Albrecht. Giselle is in love and thinks the Duke will marry her but, well, it turns Albrecht is a bit of a player and is already engaged to another woman – a rich, wealthy and influential one – and Giselle dies of heartbreak.

Now, getting Giselle right is no easy task. She’s a hard heroine for modern women to root for – wholly naïve and frustratingly delicate in life, she is also way too forgiving and self-sacrificial in death. For the second half sees Giselle’s spirit summoned from her grave by the ghostly, vengeful Wilis, who seek to lure men into their forest glade and kill them. Only when they set their sets on Albrecht (who, frankly, would deserve his fate at the hands of these murderous women) Giselle protects him with her love.

Yet Alina Cojocaru is flawless as Giselle. She’s breathtakingly impressive. A consummate acting performance as well as the ever-present technical excellence in her dancing. There is such lightness, such playfulness to her Giselle. Cojocaru seems to spring into leaps with barely an exhale. And as a spirit, she is mesmerising. Her pointe-work is extraordinary. Required to drift and float, she seems to move as if she were really a ghost, tugged left and right by the breeze. Her effort entirely invisible.

Yet there is such depth to the talent in the ENB, from the leads to the corps. Isaac Hernández makes for a sympathetic, romantic Albrecht – the precision in his spins and leaps mightily impressive. And I was utterly bewitched by Michaela DePrince’s Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. What presence, what charisma.

Of course, it is the second half, when Giselle has parted for the world of the ghostly, vindictive Wilis that is the highlight, and, my, the ENB really captures the haunting romantic gothic darkness of this world. The corps enchant as the haunting Wilis with their faultless execution of Marius Petipa’s terrific choreography. Each is in perfect harmony with the other as they encircle and entrap the men who wronged them in life. It’s such a heady, intoxicating depiction that I was desperate to part of their ranks!

It was no surprise that many in the audience gave the performance a standing ovation. If I had a few more pounds in my pocket, I would happily set through every single one of the remaining performances.

This Giselle is running at the London Coliseum for the rest of the month. Their radical Akram Khan version returns to Sadler’s Wells later this year but who knows when we will see this classic again so, please, do not miss it. It’s intoxicating, dramatic and utterly spellbinding in the darkest, most haunting of ways. A complete triumph.

London Coliseum, to January 22, 2017

Image Credits:  

1. Alina Cojocaru as Giselle and Isaac Hernandez as Albrecht in English National Ballet’s Giselle © Laurent Liotardo

2. Alina Cojocaru as Giselle in English National Ballet’s Giselle © Laurent Liotardo

3. Alina Cojocaru as Giselle and Isaac Hernandez as Albrecht in English National Ballet’s Giselle © Laurent Liotardo

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