Frolics in the forest

Giselle

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

WHAT an exquisite little dancer Ekaterina Bulgutova is as Giselle, lifting the whole ballet with some delightful footwork.

She is the star of this production from the Russia State Ballet of Siberia well supported by Mikhail Khushutin as the disguised Count Albrecht who showed athleticism and some excellent work in both solo dances and a splendid pas de deux in the second act.

Giselle is one of those airy fairy mid 19th century ballets with remarkably well dressed peasant girls in a bucolic landscape where the sun always shines and various princes, counts and assorted nobles wander about, often in disguise, partaking of the local womanhood and breaking into dance at the drop of a feathered hat.

Set sometime in the Middle Ages, when such events seemed to be common, we find lurking among the hedgerows various sprites, supernatural beings and, in this case, a collection of Wilis, Wilis being a supernatural bunch of women who dance men to death – a sort of early form of disco.

The basic tale is simple. Giselle falls for this happy-go-lucky peasant lad, Loys, not knowing he is really Count Albrecht, out among the peasantry sowing his up-market wild oats among the masses before he has to settle down to a life of royal visitis and state openings with his betrothed, the Countess Bathilde.

When Giselle discovers the truth that her likeable peasant is a count and set to marry another she dies on the spot,  there and then of a broken heart or at least she shuffles off her mortal coil after a pretty dance.

The second act sees her grave set alone in a gloomy forest where it is visited by the now grieving Count. This sees the Wilis turn out in force, raising Giselle from the dead as bait to dance the life out of Albrecht. But Giselle’s love saves him and they all live . . . well not exactly happily ever after. Giselle is still dead of course and while Albrecht has been saved from death he realises what a love he has lost and slopes off dragginghis cloak behind him.

IMPOSING QUEEN

Anastasia Kazantseva is an imposing Queen of the Wilis and a confident dancer aided by Tatiana Gavrilova and Nadezhda Vlasova as her main cohorts and a corps of 16 fine dancers.

Among the peasantry we have Hans the forrester danced by Egor Osokin who is carrying a torch for Giselle to no avail,  and Vera Surovtseva as Giselle’s mother.

In truth old Hans was not given much help to make his case with just a few hand gestures to tell his tale and no real show off dance to impress Giselle and as for mum? Perhaps a little more make-up was needed there to make her look considerably older than her daughter rather than appear more as a sister.

The music by Parisian composer Adolphe Adam was unusual at the time, 1841, in that it was largely original and wasn’t a collection of popular classical tunes of the time which was the fashion, sort of jukebox ballets.

But it is still as if it has been written specifically for dance, rather like ballet etudes, with music which might be easy to choreograph but is hardly memorable.

This is perhaps most noticeable set against the two other ballets the company are performing at the Grand, Sleeping Beauty and Sawn Lake both with music by Tchaikovsky who brought the art of symphony into ballet, producing scores which stand as concert pieces on their own.

This touring production also suffers a little from a thin sound, which is not to detract from the 14-piece orchestra, which was excellent, but playing with 14 musicians inevitably reduces the depth and colour of the music which becomes even more noticeable with less familiar melodies.

It is not a fault, or criticism, just a necessary compromise and a fact of touring life. Touring with a full orchestra would increase costs – and ticket prices - considerably with perhaps another 50 or so musicians to be housed and paid - and live music, even in smaller numbers,  is far better than the recorded music some smaller companies use on tour.

A small point and one that hardly detracts from an enjoyable performance. The visit ends with Swan Lake on 25-03-14.

Roger Clarke

And pars de deux from the back

****

IT can be very cold in Siberia, but this superb company delivered a heart warming fantasy ballet to the Black Country with their performance of Giselle.

The first act was particularly colourful, with delightful costumes as the cast developed the emotional story of the delicate peasant girl as she falls in love with a young man called Loys who is posing as one of the villagers.

He is, however, Count Albrecht, sewing his wild oats before marrying his fiancée, Countess Bathide, and the deception leads to tragedy.

Ekaterina Bulgutova excelled as Giselle, dancing beautifully while at times able to reveal the strain of her medical condition and finally reacting to the realisation that she has been deceived.

A superb performance, too, from Mikhail Khushutin in the role of the Count, especially in the second act when he visited Giselle’s grave in the forest and her spirit appears to him.

Egor Osokin also impressed as the forester Hans, the local man with a genuine love for Giselle.

The Russian dancers and orchestra also staged Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake before leaving Wolverhampton.

Paul Marston 

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