Giselle: The Royal Versus the Bolshoi

Last Wednesday I went to see the Royal Ballet’s Giselle live-streamed direct from London. Today, I saw the Bolshoi’s live-streamed from Moscow, both via Emerging Pictures’ excellent Ballet in Cinema series. I have to say I think this new series is one of the most exciting things happening in ballet right now, if not the most exciting. You can see the world’s greatest ballet companies perform live in your hometown via your local movie theater (if, of course, you’re lucky enough to have a local cinema that’s participating – and hopefully you are!). Not only do you get to see the live performance, but the camera also takes you behind the scenes to see things even those in the theater can’t see – to the makeup rooms, the rehearsal areas where the dancers are warming up, getting dressed, and sewing their shoes, etc., behind the curtain during and after the performance where you see the dancers prepare for curtain calls, and down into the orchestra pit where camera focuses on the conductor and members of the orchestra. You also get a good view of the theater – from inside the auditorium to the lounge areas, even to the outside front. You really feel like you’re there. And knowing it’s in real time makes it all the more fun. I kept wanting to wave out to the audience members as they took their seats, some looking at the camera. But of course they couldn’t see us…

Anyway, it’s such an experience, and hopefully everyone will be able to have it at some point soon.

So, the Royal’s Giselle: the dancers were Marianela Nunez in the lead, Rupert Pennefather as Albrecht, Gary Avis and Hilarion, and Helen Crawford as Myrtha. Also, one dancer who wasn’t a lead but who I was just really captivated by was Yuhue Choe, who danced the female peasant in the peasant pas de deux.

Overall, I liked but didn’t love this production. My biggest problem was Pennefather, who I just didn’t find at all compelling – either in his dancing or his acting. He was definitely good-looking and had a regal bearing so I understand why they cast him, but his dancing was just nowhere near the level of someone like David Hallberg’s. In the second act in the would-be dance-to-death scene where he went to do his high jumps with the many braided entrechats, they just didn’t look polished or sharp enough. They almost looked fake – like he wasn’t really weaving his feet backward and foreword. I’m sure he was, it just looked sloppy. And as a character his Albrecht didn’t make much sense. At the beginning, when his servant helps him change into his peasant costume, he looks down at the costume, and smiles to himself, pleased. Then, he has fun dancing with Giselle, tricking her with the altered flower, etc. Later, when he’s found out and his betrothed asks him why on earth he’s dressed as a peasant, he immediately laughs it off, and practically runs toward her, kissing her hand. It’s never clear what he hopes to accomplish by pretending to be a peasant and seducing the unknowing peasant girl; what his motivation is for doing any of it. But he didn’t seem particularly dumb or playboy-like either. It just seemed like a role that wasn’t thought-out.

I did like Nunez. I thought she was a tremendous dancer, and she acted very well too. Her mad scene was real, completely believable, not at all overdone, with depth, one of the best I’ve seen. Of course it helps that the camera’s so focused up close on her face! You can easily see the emotions. The only thing was that body-wise she didn’t seem like a Giselle to me. She didn’t seem weak and delicate and fragile. And that strength came through in her dancing too. Her performance reminded me a little of Paloma Herrera’s Giselle. I thought Herrera was terribly miscast. I thought Nunez was such a remarkable dancer though that I was able for the most part to suspend disbelief, more so than with Herrera.

I thought Gary Avis was a really hot, hunky Hilarion 🙂 He’s a very good actor too. I think he was actually the best actor in the whole production. I really believed his love for Giselle, his urgent need to keep Albrecht away from her, and his devastation over what ended up happening to her. And ditto for the Bolshoi’s Hilarion (or Hans as he’s called there), Vitaly Biktimirov – at least in the hot & hunky department. He was a good dancer, but less of a good actor than Avis. I was talking with a friend and fellow blogger, Art, during intermission, and he said he thought the British were simply just trained to be actors as well as dancers, probably because of their history. The Russians weren’t so trained. And I agree with him. The Russians seem to do everything in a very melodramatic, somewhat phony way. I mean, not Veronika Part, not the Russians who come here. But when you see a production by a Russian company it just seems like everything is very performance-y, not natural.

I really loved Choe in the Royal’s peasant pdd and found myself wondering what type of Giselle she’d make. She looked perfect for the part. I thought her dancing was lovely, but I’m not sure if, had she danced Giselle, it would have been at the level of Nunez’s. Has anyone seen more of Choe? She’s a beautiful dancer.

Interestingly, Helen Crawford, who danced Myrtha, was a tiny little thing. Very pretty, very fine features, very delicate-looking. She also had the appearance of a Giselle. She did a superb job though acting the controlling, sometimes damning Queen of the Wilis. It was just interesting casting, though, because all of our Myrthas are the larger, more physically-imposing ballerinas.

I hate to say it, but I really didn’t like the Bolshoi’s very much. But I LOVED their performance of The Class Concert, a one-act that preceded their Giselle. The Class Concert was created in 1960, by Asaf Messerer,  and it’s one of those storyless ballets that takes place in a classroom and that are meant to highlight the magnificence of ballet, from beginning at the barre, and ending with the grand jumps and high overhead lifts of center-work. Kind of like Harald Lander’s Etudes or Christopher Wheeldon’s Scenes de Ballet. Anyway, those dancers are incredible. I mean, I was almost on the floor I was so in awe. From the small children to the young adults doing all the lifts and crazy chaine turns and high jumps – every hip was completely perfectly turned-out, every tendu perfectly pointed, every single body’s form was absolute perfection. They weren’t always moving in unison, but just the perfection of each of them individually made me not care that they weren’t always in sync. It was amazingly beautiful, but in a way, it was also slightly creepy. I mean, to attain that kind of miraculous perfection, you realize these children must do nothing but eat, sleep and ballet every day from the time they’re 2 years old foreword. Talk about Tiger Mothers. It’s a whole Tiger State.

Anyway, their Giselle I felt was lacking. I loved their Albrecht – Dmitry Gudanov. He had everything Pennyfather lacked – at least in the acting. Gudanov had definitely thought through his motivations for the character. Gudanov’s Albrecht was in love with Giselle. His servant tried to tell him he was going to hurt her, but he just blew his servant off. He was reckless but his heart was with Giselle. Later, when the princess, his betrothed, sees him in the peasant costume, at first he doesn’t know what to do, how to act. Then he slowly, begrudgingly takes her hand. But it’s clear he’s not in love with her and he really wants Giselle. He remains torn between her and Giselle even after he realizes he must chose his betrothed – at least for the time being. And then he’s shocked when Giselle reacts so badly. And then he’s devastated along with Hilarion, even going after him with a sword, when she dies. I still wasn’t in love with his dancing, though. Actually, he did everything very very well. He was a very good dancer. What I wasn’t in love with was Grigorovich’s choreography for him. I didn’t feel that the dance to death scene was in any way a seriously dangerous dance. It looked rather lyrical. There were no brises or jumps with the entrechats; instead there was a series of tour jetes back and forth, and they weren’t done particularly fast. It looked like he was flying gracefully through the air not like he was exhausting himself to the verge of death. And when he’d “collapse” he’d go down so lightly, it was like he was going to sleep, like Sleeping Beauty. No crashing to the floor in sheer exasperation ala Marcelo Gomes at all.

But who I really didn’t like was Svetlana Lunkina as Giselle. I’ve heard so many good things about her and my hopes were so high, but now I can’t understand the big deal at all. She seemed really really wooden to me. She really didn’t act at all. Her face was devoid of emotion throughout. And, unlike Nunez or Osipova, or any other dancer I’ve ever seen in the role, her dancing was nothing to write home about at all. She was adequate but she looked like a corps dancer to me. What am I missing? Maybe she was really just having a bad night, because during the wilis scene when she had those several slow turns on one leg, her balance looked very off. I really thought she might actually lose her balance and fall. So maybe it was just the pressure of the cameras and knowing so many people were watching.

Again, I really liked the ballerina who danced the peasant pas de deux – here, Chinara Alizade – and wondered what she would have looked like as Giselle.

Oh, and speaking of the peasant dances: hehe, these were the absolute fanciest peasant costumes I’ve ever seen! Art joked that these were peasants flown in from Paris for the occasion!

I had a blast though. And the Sunday performances are so nice because there are so many more people. I met two new dance fans who regularly read my blog! I felt kind of half-dead today – probably because of a late night last night – but I’m always so flattered when people recognize me and come up and talk to me. I’m always so thrilled to find that people like this blog and find it valuable and my viewpoints interesting and all! So thank you!


  1. So funny–I was just watching some video of Yuhue Choe on Youtube–then read an article about her in the Guardian. She’s considered a rising star and certainly her dancing (at least on video) looked absolutely gorgeous.

  2. Hi Tonya, I just came across your great blog today and I’ve been reading it all night. I attended the Bolshoi livestream of Giselle and had very much the same thoughts as you. My review is here:

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