It is no great spoiler to say that in ballet, when a man swears an oath of eternal love, you know it’s not going to end well. It happens most famously in Swan Lake, again in La Sylphide — and in Giselle, too, which is back at the Royal Opera House.
Giselle is never out of a good ballet company’s repertoire for long and it is easy to see why: tuneful melodies by Adolphe Adam, a (literally) haunting love story and a gem of a role for the ballerina.
In the current revival by Sir Peter Wright, Giselle is being danced by all of the company’s female principals. At the performance I saw, Akane Takada was a moving Giselle. Physically suited to the role — she looks tiny and fragile — she was gentle and shy in the first act, becoming magnificently unbalanced when the depth of betrayal by her beloved “Loys” (really Count Albrecht) was revealed.
She was sublime in the second act; appearing almost weightless with outstanding elevation and displaying the beautiful rounded arms of Romantic ballet. As Albrecht, Benjamin Ella was a secure and elegant partner, carrying off his solos with aplomb, but he needs to project more to allow his character to shine through.
In the first act pas de six, the women outshone the men, whose timings were a little out and finishes not as clean as they could be. As Giselle’s mother, Kristen McNally was a fine Berthe. Her mime, when she tells the story of the Wilis — vengeful maidens who have died before their wedding day — was a clear and potent forewarning of Giselle’s end.
Claire Calvert was a magnificent Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. From her first entrance, bouree-ing across the stage to her final exit as the dawn destroys her power, she was truly chilling. She led her cohort of malevolent wraiths as they danced unsuspecting men to death.
The corps de ballet were on top form as the Wilis: chilling, moving as one; their arms cradling children that were never born, from marriages that never happened.
First performed in 1841, Giselle still packs an emotional punch.
And, when performed like this, it never fails to move the most hardened audience member.