Giselle by The Russian State Ballet of Siberia – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, February 2019
Having seen The Snow Maiden performed by the touring Russian State Ballet of Siberia at Hull New Theatre last year, I was eagerly looking forward to one of this year’s offering, the classic Giselle. And I’m delighted to report that this was another triumph. While not given perhaps the same modern-day limelight as the likes of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Giselle is a staple that any hardcore ballet fan is likely to have seen, and it’s one of the darkest, tragic and most mystical of stories.
Anna Fedosova starred as the eponymous peasant girl who is at the heart of everything in the ballet, an ultimately tragic figure who in turn attracts the spirits and leaves those around her haunted and touched by death. The other lead roles of Hans the forester and the duplicitous Count Albrecht fell to Ivan Karnaukhov and Yury Kudriavtsev respectively, one of whom ends up dead and the other left alone and grieving. See, I said it was tragic.
The story is set in Rhineland in the Middle Ages and is in two acts, the first of which starts off in a relatively upbeat manner, as the villagers celebrate the grape harvest. This gives the opportunity for Count Albrecht, disguised as a humble villager, to make his move on Giselle, even though he is already betrothed to the Countess Bathilde, and he works his magic on her sufficiently to have her hooked. These underhand shenanigans also incur the wrath of local forester Hans, who also happens to be madly in love with Giselle, and who suspects the Count isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Unfortunately for Albrecht, Bathilde soon arrives in the village as part of a hunting party, and after a short while, Giselle is made fully aware that she has been duped. Heartbroken by the tragedy of the situation, Giselle takes her own life, leaving the grief-stricken Albrecht and Hans at each others’ throats as the first act comes to its climax.
“A number of beautiful set-pieces”
The real beauty of this ballet, with music by French composer Adolphe Adam that keeps proceedings ticking along rather than dominating, is in the almost macabre second act, when the deceased Giselle is summoned from the grave by the Wilis, the rather curious spirits of betrothed girls who have died before their wedding day. Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, is a truly scary character, and wonderfully played by Miryam Roca Cruz, as she leads her band of women to protect Giselle and right the wrongs that have been dealt her.
There isn’t a huge amount in the way of plot in the second act, but the story allows the relationship between the two leads, Giselle and Albrecht, to develop even from beyond the grave, leading to a number of beautiful set-pieces, as Giselle struggles to escape an eternity in the grip of the Wilis, while Albrecht expresses his grief and love for her while all the time becoming weaker and weaker. The Wilis manage to see off Hans by making him literally dance until death, and then try to make Albrecht do the same, despite his desperate pleas to Myrtha for mercy. As sunlight breaks, the Wilis’ power is destroyed and Gisele’s love for Albrecht saves his life, while she returns to her grave, leaving him heartbroken and exhausted. In some ways the second act is a hard watch, due to the extraordinary storytelling and subject matter, but in the hands of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia it’s also utterly mesmerising, and you can’t take your eye of the stage for a second.