An evening of love and loss

Mark Mon­a­han ap­plauds a de­lec­ta­ble twin de­but in the Royal Bal­let's rav­ish­ing pro­duc­tion of Giselle

The Sunday Telegraph - - Arts -

Giselle is one of the old­est sur­viv­ing bal­lets. It was cre­ated in 1841 by Jean Co­ralli and Jules Per­rot (though heav­ily re­vised in the sec­ond half of that cen­tury by Mar­ius Petipa), and, what’s more, the Royal Bal­let’s pro­duc­tion is now way past its 30th birth­day. How­ever, thanks to pro­ducer Peter Wright and de­signer John Macfarlane, it re­mains a rav­ish­ing piece of work. And on Fri­day evening, reg­u­lar dance part­ners Francesca Hay­ward and Alexan­der Camp­bell – hav­ing the pre­vi­ous week honed their per­for­mances at a “closed”, school­sonly mati­nee – made a joint de­but of such artistry and chem­istry that the en­tire story felt new-minted.

Hay­ward’s Giselle is one of com­plete charm and vul­ner­a­bil­ity. In Act I, vir­tu­ally step­ping into mid-air and land­ing in com­plete si­lence (that’s tech­nique for you), this tiny, drop-dead-beau­ti­ful dancer paints a sub­tle por­trait of a smit­ten but too-del­i­cate young woman, buoyed by love but head­ing for a fall. From her per­fect phras­ing and com­plete un­in­hib­it­ed­ness in her lover Al­brecht’s arms, to her brac­ing flash of real de­spair when the “He loves me/He loves me not” petals fall the wrong way, she poignantly sig­nals where this tale is head­ing.

As, in­deed, does Camp­bell. Although not (in bal­let terms) of con­ven­tion­ally princely height or frame, he more than com­pen­sates through his im­mer­sion in char­ac­ter and the punch of his danc­ing. In his ini­tial deal­ings with his squire, his two-tim­ing Al­brecht (al­ready be­trothed to another, but fool­ing around with Giselle) dis­plays an im­pe­ri­ous­ness that’s com­pletely cred­i­ble be­cause of its ca­su­al­ness. Sim­i­larly, when the clod­hop­ping forester Hi­lar­ion – in love with Giselle, and sure he’s Do­ing the Right Thing – re­veals Al­brecht’s du­plic­ity and she skips im­plor­ingly over to Al­brecht, Camp­bell boldly makes the long-in­grained ar­ro­gance of sta­tus even now take prece­dence. Never mind his sud­denly sur­fac­ing feel­ings for Giselle: he coldly pushes her aside.

How­ever, dur­ing a sub­tle but pun­ish­ing mad scene from Hay­ward, he takes Al­brecht on a finely etched arc to­wards com­plete an­guish at his loss and blind fury to­wards Hi­lar­ion. On which sub­ject, high marks too for first artist Kevin Emer­ton as the wood­chop­ping lo­cal boy who’s fa­tally less smart than he thinks he is.

For all this, though, had Hay­ward laid a trap for her­self? Giselle is di­vided into a vividly ter­res­trial first act and con­trast­ing mag­i­cal, moon­lit sec­ond. In Mar­i­anela Nuñez’s (won­der­ful, ca­reer-best) in­ter­pre­ta­tion three weeks ago, there was an earth­i­ness to her Act I danc­ing that left plenty of room for con­trast later. But so feath­erlight was Hay­ward al­ready that might she now, it oc­curred to me, have nowhere to go?

As if. In Act II, as a wraith de­ter­mined to save Al­brecht – for all his past sins – from her fel­low, venge­ful Wilis, she barely seems to touch the ground. Her legato phras­ing here has an other-worldly del­i­cacy and con­trol to it, and she em­braces Al­brecht with the same com­plete­ness as in Act I, but now with a divine for­give­ness and strength. Mean­while, he, still pounc­ing on ev­ery dra­matic de­tail, is su­perb as a man ra­di­at­ing both love and re­morse – his part­ner­ing here is ter­rific, their clinches in­fin­itely touch­ing – but also fight­ing tooth-and-nail for his life.

As the Wili queen Myrtha, Ma­yara Ma­gri (another debu­tante) is not yet quite the mur­der­ous ice-maiden she needs to be, but tech­ni­cally sharp even so. As her two at­ten­dants, Eliz­a­beth Har­rod is good but Meaghan Grace Hinkis a revelation in the ex­pan­sive lyri­cism of her up­per body – a Giselle-in-wait­ing, per­haps.

A su­perb corps and sen­si­tive mu­sic-mak­ing com­pleted a mar­vel­lous evening. In­deed, the ap­plause was of the vol­ume re­served for those very spe­cial per­for­mances that have just wrenched some 2,000 hearts.

In rep un­til March 9. Tick­ets: 020 7304 4000; roh.org.uk

Be­witch­ing: Francesca Hay­ward and Alexan­der Camp­bell in Giselle

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