Ballet Cymru’s Giselle treats the well known story in a fresh and original way that nevertheless respects the original text.  Both the score by Catrin Finch and Lee Child, and the choreography (attributed to Amy Doughty, Darius James and dancers of the company) draw on the nineteenth century ballet to create something completely new.  There are musical quotations from Adolphe Adam’s music, and the dances also echo the original in interesting ways, for example using the posés temps levés with ballonés that are traditionally Giselle’s on her first entrance for the whole cast.  Nevertheless, this is a wholly new creation.

The performance opened by slowly revealing a scene at a hospital, as if seen through dripping foliage that was projected onto the gauze scrim, which was then overlaid by an image of an ECG chart to the sound of a heart beat.  It marks out Giselle’s fragility from the start.  The action moves to her village, only it is not a village; the scene is set, shockingly, in a graffiti-covered underpass that is more like the location for an episode of Spiral.  As the story unfolds, the emphasis is on Hilarion (Yasset Roldan) and his experience of having the woman he loves stolen from him, as much as it is on Giselle and her love for Albrecht, who in this account is already married to someone else.

The ballet really comes into its own in the second act, which is frightening, grotesque and also beautiful.  The shift from bare-foot dancing in the first act to pointe work in the second adds to the other-worldly atmosphere.  The ghosts crawl out of their graves, squirming horribly along the ground, and seem to disappear into the background images created by ingenious use of projection.  Isobel Holland as Lead Ghost is authoritative and also subtly sexy, with even a hint of the dominatrix.  I liked this interpretation of the Gothic, which acknowledged the erotic nature of nineteenth century romanticism.  Giselle (Beth Meadway) embodied a contrasting purity and danced a lyrical pas de deux with Albrecht (Andrea Maria Battaggia).

Ballet Cymru is an ethnically diverse and inclusive company (one of the dancers used a wheelchair).  They are also talented and technically assured.  Roldan, in particular, is a fine dramatic dancer who conveys intense emotion with absolute conviction, and the entire cast danced very well. 

While I felt that the production could have made more of the first act’s threatening urban setting, this is a visually striking work with a new and interesting score.  Giselle tours until the end of November, and I hope that in future there will be more opportunities to see this exciting Welsh ballet company in the Oxford area.

Maggie Watson

17th November 2021