One of the things that draws me back to the ballet (even the ones I’ve seen before), is to be in the theatre on a night when that elusive special something raises the bar onstage and transmits an electrical frizzon to the audience & makes the hairs on the back of my neck shiver. Carlos Acosta dancing Spartacus for the first time in London was one such dazzling night; Darcey Bussell’s last dance (to Song of the Earth) transcended time and place; Stephen McRae getting the chance (at short notice) to dance Romeo with Alina Cojocaru was another. These gems come along rarely, and although, if you have a good knowledge of a ballet company and its repertory you can perhaps anticipate something extraordinary in the casting, you just have to be there in case it happens when you least expect it as well.
This was the 529th performance of Giselle at the Royal Opera House & this run has two notable debutantes – Marianela Nunez as Giselle and Helen Crawford as Myrtha.
It promised to be one such night.
Marianela Nunez is to ballet what Christine Bleakley is to TV – a ballerina with smiling genetically programmed in her DNA. Rarely do you see either without it on full beam. In Act 1, where Giselle is happiness personified, everything is sunny and light. Her smile is solar powered, the steps perfectly danced. Ricardo Cervera stood out in the pas de six, landing each jump perfectly. It’s easy to overlook Nunez’s technical expertise while she expresses every nuance so exquisitely. Nunez and Acosta always seem to spark off each other and almost dare each other to greater technically astounding feats, but Act 1 doesn’t call for that and so it’s an opportunity to see understatement at work. No more so than the “mad scene”, when Giselle sees, with the (un)helpful Hilarion that her lover (Albrecht) is not who she thinks he is, that he is a Count and not a peasant as she is, and is already engaged to another to boot. Other dancers have portrayed this pivotal scene with wide eyed hysterics and much nashing of teeth and hair; not Nunez. Her Giselle was still, registering slowly the impact of Albrecht’s betrayal, and as she realises the futility of the situation she gives up hope completely, and it’s tragic to watch.
If Act 1 is yellow and brown, all about celebrating the harvest and dancing, then Act 11 is introspective, atmospheric, gauzy and white, with phantom Wilis set on revenge with Myrtha as their Queen. Helen Crawford’s dancing was fleet footed, making beautiful shapes with her feet and at the same time, making it absolutely clear who is in charge in this moonlit, spooky place. The corp were perfectly drilled, their costumes giving an air of ethereal “otherness” and their dancing an air of menace. Myrtha is implacable, and after dancing Hilarion to death the Wilis turn their ghostly spectre’s to Albrecht, who is visiting Giselle’s grave. Giselle appears and on seeing his remorse, wants to save him from her vengeful sisters. Myrtha is having none of it. For any dancer, the role of Myrtha must be a difficult one, not least because for much of the time she is turned towards the audience, at the front of the stage, with a face like thunder and with all the action going on behind her, and yet she has to interact at crucial moments to tell the story. Crawford has mastered this pose, which could look a bit “Tin Man” from the Wizard of Oz on a less skilled dancer.
Bethany Keating, as one of Myrtha’s attendants Zulme, has beautiful feet and stood out for me in her portrayal of the role.
Acosta dances Albrecht as remorse shows in every step, every beat of his perfectly danced entrechat – how excruciating they must be – and every turn of his elegant head. Acosta and Nunez were beyond sublime during their pas de deux; jumps were soundless & perfectly timed. Sorrowful longing burned through them right to their fingertips and beyond, and as dawn approaches and Giselle leaves her exhausted lover, she cradles him in arms leaden with regret.
He is left alone.
There was drama from the audience too – just as Carlos and Marianela reached the (very quiet) climax of their pas de deux, there was a terrific groan and thud from the stalls circle which seemed to startle everyone. During the applause a huddle of people left the auditorium. Afterwards I asked a member of staff what had happened and was told that the person was “in the ambulance outside”. The entire street was blocked with the ambulance in the middle of the road.
I later heard that a man had fainted and cut his head when he fell. St. John’s Ambulance were beside him & attended him, and a member of the audience called an ambulance.
I send my best wishes to that person for a speedy recovery.