Giselle, Coliseum, London – review

The Mikhailovsky Ballet from St Petersburg is returned to the Coliseum this week with Giselle as its initial offering. The staging was made in 2007 by Nikita Dolgushin, a celebrated and “intellectual” (as a stellar Giselle described him to me) Albrecht. It follows the hallowed traditions of the Mariinsky text, replete with innocent machinist’s tricks in the second act – Giselle appearing high in a tree, splendid evolutions for the night-dancing wilis – and it is set by Vyacheslav Okunev with a sure sense of Romantic style, notably in the forest scene.

There are no surprises, no clever ideas – save respect for a great ballet – and honourable dancing. The score is lovingly played by the Mikhailovsky’s orchestra under Valery Ovsyanikov, and as a tiny bonus there is a woman’s variation in the “peasant” pas de deux that I have heard only in Russia and is, I hazard, a musical interpolation from the 1890s, a Fabergé trinket, entirely out of place and entirely delicious.

The ensembles were done with clear, devoted style by the troupe, but the key to this performance was, inevitably, the presence of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the leading roles. Hung about with our expectations of virtuosity, these artists yet compel us to see them as notable interpreters.

Vasiliev’s Albrecht is grandly scaled in step, but he is haunted by his own actions, the character lit by lightning flashes of emotional as well as of danced ardour. Osipova, from the first, seems a creature of sweetest feelings – how charming her initial meeting with the supposed Loys, how ravishingly buoyant her dance – and her mad-scene is bold in scale as she races from the terrible reality that must break her heart. Her wili in the forest scene holds the choreography in the air, soaring in protective love for Albrecht, the beautiful action and the exquisite placing of a step or a phrase as it opens on to the night profoundly revealing. And, for all the intervening years and their attritions on the text, and for all the depredations of producers, dancers and those other enemies of a period masterpiece, Giselle is there for us.

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