Natalia Osipova as Giselle
Natalia Osipova as Giselle

Since ballet-loving banana king Vladimir Kekhman took over as general director in 2007, the Mikhailovsky Ballet has concentrated on 19th-century classics, brawny Soviet sagas, and the pointe-less creations of Spaniard Nacho Duato. But for its belated US debut (until November 23 in New York, then to Los Angeles), the St Petersburg troupe has wisely jettisoned all but a scrap of the contemporary, for which we do not depend on the Russians. The engagement began with the supernatural love story Giselle.

Nikita Dolgushin’s 2007 staging is faithful to the text as we now know it, without being complacent about it (always the risk in fidelity). In fact, the shifts in emphasis tend to clarify and intensify the drama. The man-eating Myrta, queen of the Wilis, does not simply introduce herself to us in her initial solo, she meticulously prepares the space for her nefarious purposes, marking the perimeter with black-magic branches in hand. The Wilis are equally her dominion. They are not the zealous followers of ABT’s Giselle but zombie slaves, dancing as if put through their paces for the thousandth time.

When Giselle circumferences her beloved Albrecht (here “the Count”), we catch the parallel. He is her hallowed ground, and she the saintly antidote to Myrta.

And the lovers? Except in Don Quixote, Natalia Osipova has been parted from her steady, Ivan Vasiliev, for this tour. Elegant, open-faced Leonid Sarafanov and she made for a disarmingly odd couple. Her Giselle was wild and simple – slow to pick up on the lover’s games that the count tossed her way, and flinching like a spooked cat at his touch. Her fear gave him pause. Sarafanov conceived the nobleman in a contemporary key: he will not gobble up this dewy peasant without her consent. So the first act lurched along – needy, ardent boy with skittish natural-born girl – until Giselle died of a broken heart. Even dumb love is not foolproof, it turns out.

But by the second act, in that haunted forest, Osipova’s characterisation of Giselle hardly mattered. Her dancing had become a character unto itself – a force of nature.

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