If any ballet deserves to be described as a classic of the genre (first performed in 1841), even more so than Swan Lake, it is Giselle (London Coliseum). The ghost filled tragedy of a young peasant girl enamoured by dance who falls for a disguised nobleman, Albrecht, he betrays her, is made up of two starkly contrasting acts that take you on an enchanting journey culminating in an unbearably sad denouement.
Created by Mary Skeaping in 1971, it is easy to see why the English National Ballet still have it as part of their repertoire. Framed by David Walker’s autumnal Rhineland picture postcard frame – ‘a pleasant valley in Germany’ – the storytelling unfolds like turning the pages of a traditional children’s book, beautiful illustrations brought to life by delightful dance. It highlights the point that dancing is what gladdens her heart but also the thing that makes her such a delicate and fragile being.
The breathtaking second act, in which we are introduced to the Wilis, the ghosts of unmarried women who died after being betrayed by their lovers and take revenge in the night by dancing men to death by exhaustion, is a spellbinding sequence of ballerinas filling the stage with phenomenal speed, skill and elegance, the tale now transformed into a supernatural vision. It is precisely these sequences that make this a ballet for all comers, especially those new to the experience. David Mohr’s exceptional lighting, recreated from Charles Bristow’s original, adds greatly to the atmosphere.
Katja Khaniukova is Giselle, an excellent technician, beautifully light landings, combined with a very expressive characterisation that draws you in to her love for life and that tortuous moment of betrayal. However, it is Aitor Arieta’s nobleman who excites the audience with moments of dance magic, a mesmerising performance that is an intoxicating blend of athleticism and attractive persona making it easy to see how the poor girl is drawn into his deceit. Though if push comes to shove it is the company set piece dances of the second act that I could watch again and again. Also, unlike any other time I have watched Giselle, I was very aware of Adolphe Adam’s lush music, played beautifully by the English National Ballet Philharmonic. Dance as pleasure and death, quite a story and a thrilling experience in this gorgeous venue.
In Guildford meanwhile, the Yvonne Arnaud’s 2024 season got off to a thrilling start with Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery And Then There Were None, the best-selling crime novel of all time. Ten strangers are lured to a solitary mansion off the coast of Devon. When a storm cuts them off from the mainland, the true reason for their presence on the island becomes horribly clear. The mysterious host is a capricious individual and all is not what it seems. Before you can say “whodunnit” one by one they begin to die – the clue is in the title. Deftly directed by Lucy Bailey the tension builds throughout with each character displaying emotional turmoil and a dark cum odd background which supposedly provide clues to their ultimate demise. The plot, in typical Christie style, is sometimes chaotic and peppered with wit and laugh out loud moments as they begin to lose the plot fearful of what may happen. Mike Britton’s set design is evocative of the grandeur of 1920’s Britain, the art deco style giving the play a backdrop that lends itself perfectly to the mayhem and murder.
The snappy cast are spiffingly good, gelling extremely well with sharp interplay picking out all the key moments to maximum effect. The audience reaction was extremely positive, fully deserved as this is excellent entertainment.
Giselle – www.ballet.org.uk
And Then There Were None – www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk