The Vienna Festival Ballet's Giselle

Vienna Festival Ballet’s regular visits have been among the real highlights of the last few years for Lichfield theatregoers and I for one have become a huge fan.

They wisely stick to the classics tradition has hallowed and in this way bring ballet to many who might not be quite brave enough to take a punt on the more expensive international companies both home-grown and from abroad.

The Vienna Festival Ballet’s Giselle

They’ve always been good, but this time in my opinion VFB have excelled even their own track record and brought us an evening which is simply first class.

I have to confess they’ve played right into my hands with this beautiful production because Giselle is far and away my favourite of all the classical ballets, and I’m a bit of a know-it-all about a work which would be my mastermind subject of choice. It’s a French ballet dating from 1840 which migrated to Russia in the 1890s when everything French became the chicest of chic in St Petersburg’s imperial society – Tchaikovsky studied it while writing his own Swan Lake because both works have a supernatural twist.

But Giselle in my opinion is superior even to Tchaikovsky’s hallowed masterpiece, on account of the perfection of its form.

The first half is all sunlight, a pastoral idyll where simple villagers go happily about their humble duties with frequent breaks for celebration in dance, reflected by one of the most joyful scores in the history of theatre. But the powerfully atmospheric second half is set at night under a full moon in the dark forest where the spirits of girls jilted at the altar haunt the shadows waiting to trap unlucky men who stray into their supernatural realm.

The result is chilling, its music eerily evocative, yet ultimately uplifting as Giselle’s ghost come back from beyond the grave saves her beloved Albrecht from the fate he so richly deserved.

In a delightfully fresh cast Rachel Victoria Hernon is outstanding as Giselle, her marvellous technique marking her out as a true star from the very start.

Dean Rushton makes a very convincing job of the stout Hilarion, Giselle’s cruelly wronged fiancée, while Yoshimasa Ikezawa as her aristocratic suitor Albrecht if a little subdued in the first half soars technically in the second half as he dances, quite literally, for his life. In fact the entire second half achieves genuine theatrical perfection as the marvellous corps de ballet, clad in the white of the jilted spirits known as Wilis brew their unearthly magic led by Jodie McKnight as their evil Queen Myrtha and abetted by Monna (an icily implacable Perdita-Jayne Lancaster) with Irene Tomassetti as her accomplice the evil Zurima.

A brillant night of true artistry. Vienna Festival Ballet, come back soon!

Giselle has a 2.30pm and 7.30pm performance at the Garrick tomorrow (May 21). For tickets call 01543 412121 or go online.