Seen in cinemas: Dutch National Ballet’s Giselle with Olga Smirnova is conceived on a grand scale

NetherlandsNetherlands Dutch National Ballet’s Giselle: Dancers of Dutch National Ballet, Dutch Ballet Orchestra / Ermanno Florio (conductor). Filmed (directed by Isabelle Julien) at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet. Amsterdam, on 26 and 29.10.2023 and released worldwide in cinemas only from 21.1.2024. (JPr)

Olga Smirnova (Giselle) and Jacopo Tissi (Albrecht) © Alex Gouliaev

Music – Adolphe Adam
Choreography – Marius Petipa (after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot)
Production and Additional Choreography – Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamante
Costume and Set design – Toer van Schayk
Lighting design – James F. Ingalls

Cast included:
Giselle – Olga Smirnova
Albrecht – Jacopo Tissi
Hilarion – Giorgi Potskhishvili
Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis – Floortje Eimers
Pas de quatre – YuanYuan Zhang, Naira Agvanean, Edo Wijnen, Sho Yamada
Moyna – Nina Tonoli
Zulma – Naira Agvanean

Dutch National Ballet’s Giselle comes to cinemas (for information click here) from 21 January and is introduced as ‘The ultimate romantic ballet, performed by former Bolshoi Ballet principals Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi, who fled Russia and joined Dutch National Ballet, where this ballet is filmed. The young peasant girl Giselle falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman already betrothed who hides his true identity from her. When she learns the truth, she becomes mad and dies. Against her own will, Giselle joins the Wilis, vengeful spirits of jilted brides who condemn Albrecht to dance until he dies of exhaustion. Giselle touches upon great and universal romantic themes. Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamante’s acclaimed production pay tribute to one of the oldest and greatest works of classical dance.’

It provides an immediate opportunity – for those in the vicinity of London – to compare the version by the Dutch company with Mary Skeaping’s 1971 Giselle which English National Ballet are (currently) performing at the London Coliseum (review click here, where you will also find more background to the ballet). If possible, I urge ballet enthusiasts to see both! Watching Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamante’s 2009 staging for Dutch National Ballet you will discover they have done it equal justice. Their Giselle is conceived on a grand – and I must add cinematic – scale compared to ENB’s more intimate staging. They are blessed with a performance space – the main stage at Amsterdam’s Dutch National Opera & Ballet – which appears about twice the size of the London Coliseum, and as a result there are more dwellings in Toer van Schayk’s picturesque Rhineland lakeside village situated in an alpine pass in the shade of glowering mountains.

Also, it is populated with more villagers and not just those involved in the wine harvest, there is a bigger royal hunting party, more Wilis, more music (it seems to me) and certainly, more dancing. For instance, as the entertainment for the royal party the familiar Act I peasant pas de deux now becomes an exuberant, if slightly overblown, pas de quatre. However, this stops the evolving story of Giselle and Albrecht’s blighted first act romance stone-dead – though not too fatally (!) – for a time. Van Schayk’s exquisite costumes are typical of late medieval times, including traditional pastel-shaded dirndls and lederhosen, and there is a very atmospheric moonlit glade for the second act – with more than just the usual one grave – and the silhouettes of trees with thin trunks is the backdrop.

Olga Smirnova (Giselle) © Alex Gouliaev

You will be impressed by the commitment and technical perfection of much of the dancing you see and that is only to be expected from such a leading ballet company. The cast is led by Olga Smirnova (Dance Europe Dancer of the Year 2022) who is more princess than peasant girl but dances with clarity, precision and an otherworldly lyrical elegance and softness in the second act where her languid arms look as if they have been caught on a breeze. Smirnova displays Giselle’s emotional journey through her expressive eyes and her Giselle is clearly unwell with her death through a broken heart at the end of the first act being anticipated more than sometimes it is. Her partner, the straight-backed Jacopo Tissi, is – please forgive me! – rather dramatically inert though he dances well and partners Smirnova effectively so that she truly becomes a supernatural creature in Act II. The solo Tissi gets in the first act reveals he has a long stride and stunning leap. He then gets the entrechats six to impress us with in Act II though his character should still look more exhausted than Tissi does when he collapses to the floor.

Giorgi Potskhishvili was a swarthy Hilarion and his performance in Act II suggested he would have been a more convincing Albrecht than Tissi. This version has an interesting take on Wilfred, Albrecht’s squire, and we see Rémy Catalan insistently trying to dissuade Albrecht from his pursuit of Giselle. I thought the long-limbed Floortje Eimers was more languid than spectral in her opening solo as Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, but otherwise was authoritative and imperious. In their soft white tulle as the Wilis, the impeccably drilled corps de ballet added to the ghostly ambiance as they moved in perfect unison.

As heard though loudspeakers Adolphe Adam’s score was given a ravishing and vibrant account by the Dutch Ballet Orchestra conducted by Ermanno Florio who brought out all the lovely detail in the music, as well as being sensitive to the needs of his dancers.

This Giselle was filmed by Isabelle Julien during live performance in November 2023 and she uses a judicious mix of close-ups and longshots which take you right into the drama or steps (!) back to show you the bigger picture during the ensemble moments. This new release is produced by François Duplat and Amaury Lafarge and is presented in the U.S. by Iconic Events and produced and distributed worldwide by Pathé Live, the former film producer for Bolshoi Ballet in Cinemas.

Jim Pritchard

For more about Dutch National Ballet’s Giselle in cinemas click here.

2 thoughts on “Seen in cinemas: Dutch National Ballet’s <i>Giselle</i> with Olga Smirnova is conceived on a grand scale”

  1. Just enjoyed the filmed version of Giselle and was thrilled by the performances of all. The director and cinematographer brought me into the theater as if I were watching a live performance. It was a treat to enjoy this treasure in Boise, Idaho.
    Thank you.


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