United Kingdom Adam, Giselle: Moscow City Ballet and Orchestra, Igor Shavruk (conductor), Richmond Theatre, London, 15.01.2015 (J.O’D)
Giselle: Natalia Kleimenova
Albrecht: Dmitry Petrov
Wilfride, Albrecht’s squire: Talgat Kozhabaev
Hilarion: Daniil Orlov
Berthe: Lyubov Lysak
Duke of Courland: Aleksandr Gavrilov
Bathilde: Anastasia Shiladzhyan
Myrtha : Anastasia Shiladzhyan
Pas de deux: Valeriy Kravtsov, Anna Ivanova
Wilis: Yuliya Zhuravleva, Anna Ivanova
Corps de Ballet of Moscow City Ballet
Choreography: Jules Perrot, Jean Correli, Marius Petipa, Leonid Lavrovsky, Victor
Libretto: Victor Smirnov-Golovanov
Designs: Natalia Povago
Costumes Elisaveta Dvorkina
‘Are they coming back?’ the quiet young man at the Richmond Theatre asked last January, after Moscow City Ballet had given its performance there of The Nutcracker. ‘Yes,’ the woman behind the kiosk counter calmly told him. ‘They come every year.’ Now it’s a year later, and the Moscow City Ballet are back. Not with The Nutcracker, this time, but with Giselle and Swan Lake.
Giselle (1841) was last night. To the crisp playing of Adolphe Adam’s music by the Moscow City Ballet orchestra, the curtain went up on the Rhineland village scene of the first act. Giselle’s house and the hut in which Albrecht hides his sword were nothing more than rose-bordered doors in painted flats. But what it can’t provide in the way of sets as a company on tour, Moscow City Ballet makes up for in the colour and detail of its backdrops, the rich fabrics of its costumes, and the upper-body movements especially (their arms, hands and fingers) of its dancers.
When the tall Natalia Kleimenova, as Giselle, steps out through the door of her cottage and begins to dance, she shows balance and ballon. In her eyes she also shows excitement at the thought that it was Albrecht, the stranger to the village, who knocked. In the form of Dmitry Petrov, Albrecht is fair and handsome, but above all young. It is youth that makes him careless of the consequences of dallying with a girl from the village when he already has a betrothed (Bathilde) up at his father’s castle on the hill in the backdrop. And then there is Hilarion, the woodsman who is in love with Giselle. The strong-legged Daniil Orlov gives this character such a noble demeanour that you wonder why Giselle doesn’t love him back. But he is to prove cowardly later on. Giselle and Albrecht’s side-by-side jetés and identically waving arms are lovely to watch.
It is, though, Valeriy Kravtsov and Anna Ivanova, in the peasant pas de deux, who receive the first of the evening’s warm applause. The really happy couple that Giselle (with her weak heart) and Albrecht (as an already betrothed aristocrat) can never be, Kravtsov and Ivanova are well matched. He sprinkles movement from his rather small, sure-footed body. She appears in his raised arms, a second after standing beside him, as if pulled there by magnetic force.
When Bathilde and Albrecht’s father appear in the village, when Hilarion exposes his rival by revealing the hidden, aristocratic sword, Giselle goes mad and dies (not by suicide as in some productions). It is through their raised arms, open palms and averted faces that the women of the corps de ballet reject Albrecht when he appeals to them for sympathy. It is with the same gesture that Bathilde and her ladies-in-waiting hurry from the scene. They want to avoid the spectacle of a dead girl in her mother’s arms with which Act One ends.
During the interval, a T-shirted technician came out with a roll of tape to secure the cross of Giselle’s grave to the floor in front of the now lowered curtain. The stage of the Richmond Theatre is not large. But the moon on the second-act backdrop shines with an eerie brightness. Hilarion, visiting the grave, is scared away by a glimpse of the Wilis (the spirits of girls who have died before their wedding, and who make any man they encounter dance himself to death). As Myrtha, their queen, Anastasia Shiladzhyan glides across the stage in a calm bourrée, performs the arabesques penchées almost unwaveringly, and is assured in the first of the act’s shunt hops in arabesque. You notice her fluid arms.
The shunt hops in arabesque by the forceful corps de ballet women (when they make their appearance in this ‘white act’) send shivers down the spine. As friends of Giselle in Act One, they had been all smiles. Now, moving as one, they are grim. Even with the help of his haunches, Hilarion does not stand a chance. After encircling him with maenadic power, the women form a diagonal line down which he dances to extinction. It is possible to have theories about Hilarion: he is a boor; he is a man who, unlike Albrecht, really loves Giselle. His treatment in this production is more sympathetic than otherwise.
With her pale skin and willowy frame, Natalia Kleimenova is well-suited to dance the spirit of Giselle when summoned, as one of the wilis, by Myrtha. For a long time her eyes do not meet those of the contrite Albrecht who comes, in sumptuous mourning, to place lilies on her grave. When she begins to dance with him, it is as a creature from another world. That she has forgiven him is clear from the start. Natalia Osipova, dancing the role with the Mikhailovsky Ballet, seemed to show a Giselle caught first of all between the possibility of forgiveness and the desire for revenge. Kleimenova, like this production itself, is restrained. She might plead with Myrtha to spare Albrecht’s life, but she is always more spirit than human.
Dmitry Petrov, whose choreographed fall from exhaustion looks like a real fall, shows Albrecht maturing through his ordeal. He does not run off to the wings, an immediately changed man, when dawn comes and Giselle, Myrtha and the other will disappear. Neither does he advance downstage in a stately pas marché. Instead he kneels with bowed head by the grave, holding the flowers that Giselle, as a spirit, gave him. The applause, as the curtain fell and for a long time afterwards, came from an audience that was both satisfied and moved.