Review: ‘Giselle’

Every ballet begins with a love story, but Giselle, the tale of the forbidden love affair between the title character, Giselle, and Count Albrecht, is perhaps one of the greatest. First performed by the Ballet du Théâtre de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, in 1841, Giselle tells the tragic story of Giselle, a sensitive and delicate peasant girl, who dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover, Count Albrecht, is betrothed to the Countess Bathilde. Performed by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, supported by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia Orchestra, Tuesday night’s performance at the New Oxford Theatre was exemplary ballet: both technically brilliant, and emotionally evocative.

The Russian State Ballet of Siberia (RBS) was founded in 1978, by graduates of the choreographic schools of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg. Since their inception, the RBS has gained a reputation for delivering classic ballets with near-perfect physical precision, accompanied by ‘exquisite interpretations, outstanding discipline’ and the beautiful artistry of their young ensemble of dedicated dancers and musicians. For almost 15 years, the ballet troupe has been touring the UK, returning each time, they say, to a ‘warm welcome’ by British audiences.

Judging by the almost sold-out New Theatre in Oxford for their performance of Giselle, they are in no danger of losing British favour anytime soon. Currently led by artistic director Sergei Bobrov, and backed by a simple set design which depicted Giselle’s village (and, later, the forest in which she is buried), the cast utilised both the musical talents of their orchestra as well as the creative aptitude of their costume designers to full theatrical effect. The costumes were dazzling in their detail, the music moving, but much of this became secondary to the utterly breathtaking physical ability of the dancers themselves.

While both Yury Kudryavstev and Georgiy Bolsunovskiy delivered strong performances as Count Albrecht and Hans, the two men who love Giselle, little could distract from the performance of Ekaterina Bulgutova as Giselle. A veteran of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Bulgutova has appeared on British stages many times. And yet, she retains a remarkable ability to make her dancing seem less a performance than her own physical expression of her character’s emotional state – her solo at the end of Act I, when Giselle realises Count Albrecht is already betrothed, was particularly – excuse the pun – on point.

While Act I has an almost atmospheric festivity, due to the village setting, and Giselle’s happiness, Act II is a direct contrast. Set in the forest, the second Act resolves around the Wilis, the spirits of betrothed girls who have died before their wedding day. The Wilis attempt to lure Giselle’s spirit into their ranks, whilst also cursing both Hans and Count Albrecht to dance until they die. Without some of the theatrics of the first Act (both the stage and the costuming are much more refined in this Act), the talent of troupe as a whole was able to shine. Credit is due to Elena Pogorelaya, who played Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, and who led an impressive group of ballerinas (the Wilis) through a series of technically complex, but visually stunning, set of dances.

The Russian State Ballet of Siberia aims to deliver a ‘quality performance’ each time they take to the stage. Despite the challenges of touring, of performing in different cities, on different stages, with different ballets each night, with their performance of Giselle, the RBS undoubtedly succeeded in their aim. A quality performance indeed.

Ashlee Beazley

Future dates in the Ballet’s tour can be found here.

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