Mary Skeaping’s 1971 production of Giselle harks back to the traditions of the mid-19th century, both in staging (an autumnal landscape in the first act, lamplight and wires in the second), and in style (with softer curves than we’re used to in ballet). That suits this story of madness and moonlight, which moves from fable – a village girl falls disastrously in love with a handsome stranger – to fairy tale, as the ghosts of betrayed women take vengeance on their living lovers.
Opening English National Ballet’s London season, Erina Takahashi was an outstanding, charming Giselle, gripping as she falls apart – her hollow-eyed gaze showing a mind already wandering away from her body. As the lover Albrecht, Dmitri Gruzdyev was a princely dancer but curiously blank, neither callous nor caring. James Streeter as Giselle’s suitor Hilarion was much more engaging.
In the second act, pure dance becomes more important than expressive movement. Takahashi, concentrating on steps, seemed less confident here, and the lack of chemistry between the central couple undermined the drama. Instead, this act belonged to the rigorously synchronised corps de ballet, who emerged like swirls of mist hardening into solid lines and planes; and to their queen, Elena Glurdjidze, who combined imperious attitude with featherlight footfalls.
For this programme, ENB have revived the old tradition of beginning the evening with a short ballet, here a distinctly modern piece for nine bare-chested men. Wayne Eagling’s Men Y Men deftly surfs the turbulence in Rachmaninov’s music, first with splashy patterns of twists and leaps, then with quicksilver solos set against a slow flow of walking, as if emerging from a tide. It’s shallow and showy, but not simply show-off, just as it should be.