There have been hundreds – if not thousands – of productions of Giselle, the quintessential 19th-century Romantic ballet, set in Rhineland, conceived in France, sustained in Russia and now ubiquitous to ballet repertoires across the world. This Birmingham Royal Ballet iteration, jointly created twenty years ago by David Bintley and Galina Samsova is traditional to the core and save for one controversial sting in the tail, all the embellishments are there for the purpose of clarity. So, for example, when Count Albrecht arrives in Giselle’s village, changing into the persona of the peasant Loys we see him renting or buying the cottage opposite Giselle’s home, a matter that has to be assumed in every other production that I have seen. This is a Giselle that dots the “i” by taking nothing in the narrative for granted.

Momoko Hirata (Giselle) and César Morales (Albrecht) © Bill Cooper
Momoko Hirata (Giselle) and César Morales (Albrecht)
© Bill Cooper

The controversial ending comes with Giselle rising from her grave so that Albrecht is not – as in virtually every production ever made – alone on stage as the curtain descends. It’s an embellishment that works for me, suggesting that Giselle’s devotion to the man who betrayed her, has brought redemption for her suicide. No longer is she going to lie in an unconsecrated grave outside a deserted church because her goodness has taken her to another place. Giselle might sometimes die of a broken heart or through the physical weakness that we see signified; through her bouts of dizziness, in Act 1, but here – as in Peter Wright’s production – there is no ambiguity since Giselle overtly runs herself through with Albrecht’s sword.

The designs by the late Hayden Griffin create a suitably idealised romantic world for Giselle, her home sheltering under a canopy of greenery with a huge waterfall cascading from a distant mountain top. The lighting effect that makes the water shimmer was exactly the same as a picture in my local Chinese restaurant only this water seemed frozen from time-to-time.

Samara Downs (Myrtha) © Bill Cooper
Samara Downs (Myrtha)
© Bill Cooper

The performances were tremendous. Giselle is an ensemble work and the BRB dancers were superb as the villagers of Act 1, enjoying their harvest celebrations until they turn to tragedy, and the Wilis of Act 2 (the flying Wilis are an emphatic asset). It was easy to understand the fate of wayward men given the icy imperiousness of Samara Downs as Myrtha, more than ably supported by Yaoquian Shang and Yijing Zhang as Moyna and Zulme, respectively (and how nice to see these roles properly respected and credited). A word, too, in celebration of a charming Harvest pas de deux by Mitzi Mizutani and Tzu-Chao Chou.

Momoko Hirata (Giselle) and César Morales (Albrecht) © Bill Cooper
Momoko Hirata (Giselle) and César Morales (Albrecht)
© Bill Cooper

Momoko Hirata continues to impress in every role and her interpretation of Giselle was strong in expression and technically precise; her dancing and being were delightfully interlaced. César Morales was a perfect match for her. An elegant danseur with beautiful long lines enhanced by supple and expressive feet and arms, he also possesses a wealth of experience that makes him a strong and secure partner, always in the right position and place. He must be a ballerina’s dream to dance with. Both Hirata and Morales would be assets to any ballet company in the world and Birmingham is fortunate to have them.

Kit Holder gave a commanding performance as Hilarion. Often we might see the gamekeeper as a subservient character, pushed around by Albrecht, who then takes cynical pleasure in unmasking his duplicity. But, in Holder’s portrayal, Hilarion is strong – one sees that he is the village hero, the obvious suitor for Giselle until Loys came along. There is also clearly an empathetic bond between Hilarion and Giselle’s mother, Berthe. And speaking of experience, Marion Tait is outstanding in this role. It is an accomplished performance of clarity and dramatic strength; when she first casts a glance at Loys, flirting with her daughter, it is a look that could kill. Tait is currently also acting as interim director of BRB whilst Carlos Acosta is awaited and one assumes with the quality and commitment of these dancers, that look doesn’t get practised too often!

Samara Downs and the Wilis © Bill Cooper
Samara Downs and the Wilis
© Bill Cooper

I was once scolded by a friend about seeing the same ballet so many times. Of course, one never sees the same performance of any ballet more than once, but I can never tire of Giselle. The more interpretations, the merrier for me; but – for tradition and clarity – few are ever likely to match this excellent production, which was developed with thoughtful purpose to enrich the whole genre of this ballet.


****1