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Review: Giselle @ Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham Royal Ballet has never been more audience-friendly. They continually present cutting-edge new works either by visiting choreographers or BRB’s Director David Bintley himself, but they’ve not forgotten to show us the classics they’ve introduced a whole new generation to, and we love it.

This Giselle is a case in point. The perfect romantic ballet, it mixes happiness with dread in its profoundly moving story of first love. Tchaikovsky studied Adolphe Adam’s 1841 score when he was creating Swan Lake nearly half a century later and its dramatic power still delights, awes and thrills, especially as played here by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Koen Kessels.

Giselle is in many ways the perfect ballet, its wonderfully danceable music setting the mood for two acts which could not be more different. First we see happy country folk celebrating their harvest, but when Albrecht, a slumming aristocrat turns his attention to simple country girl Giselle fruitfulness turns to supernatural horror. In the chilling second act the happy day is over. Now a full moon rises over the forest where the Wilis, ghosts of girls jilted like Giselle hunt down any man unlucky enough to stray into their night-time world.

This is a wonderful, thoroughly engaging production of a world masterpiece, rightly rewarded by the packed first-night audience at its conclusion with screams and cheers.

Iain Mackay’s performance as Count Albrecht first as the seducer and then as a penitent lover got better and better as the action progressed. His powerful athleticism allowed him most notably to make 25 consecutive leaps (entrechats) into the air in a final bid for freedom. Jenna Roberts as Giselle seemed to hardly touch the ground, first as a simple country girl then later as a spirit from beyond the grave.

Tyrone Singleton was dignified and moving as Hilarion her promised husband, later hounded to death for the crime of simply being a man. That mistress of sublime mime Marion Tate made Giselle’s anxious mother poignantly real while Samara Downs triumphed in the difficult role of the sinister Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis.

Special mention must go to the infinitely refined dancing of Momoko Hirata and the Nureyev-like jumps of Tzu-Chao Chou in the Harvest pas de deux. Rising stars indeed.

A powerfully emotional evening of great theatre.

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