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Russian State Ballet of Siberia

‘Giselle’

February 2006
Woking, New Victoria Theatre

by Alison Penfold

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The Company: The Russian State Ballet of Siberia is based in Krasnoyarsk, and was formed in 1978. It comprises about 45 dancers and 30 musicians. (Note that despite sharing an artistic director in Sergei Bobrov and the occasional dancer, this does appear to be a completely different company from the Siberian Ballet Theatre, based in Tchelyabinsk and founded in 1956, which has also toured in the UK.)

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Typical. You wait ages for one, then along come three at once. No, not the No. 38 bus to Sadler's Wells – although if the shoe fits … - but productions of 'Giselle' in Southern England. Not only are the Royal Ballet currently performing it in London, but English National Ballet will shortly be dancing it in selected venues, and then there's this production, touring to Brighton, Southend and Milton Keynes over the next couple of months.

This appears to be a pretty traditional Russian reading of the ballet. The curtain opens on a rather luridly-coloured backdrop showing a castle – think of one of the most violent sunsets you've ever seen and that will give you a good idea. Both the backdrop and the sets appear to be quite dissimilar from, and less extensive than, those shown in the programme, so I would assume that this is a cut-down version for touring purposes.

Albrecht (Alexander Butrimovich) and his squire Wilfried enter first, as usual, but Albrecht has already removed his sword, so there's no need for the "Sire, you've still got your sword on" mime which then helps to provide a link to the later action when Albrecht betrays his noble breeding: instead, there is a lot of rather generalised mime, almost of the silent-movie type, which doesn't really take the story on at all, and lacks the dramatic impetus of various British productions.

After Giselle's appearance (Anna Aulle), the interplay between her and Albrecht and later the villagers (all female at this point, and dressed in some rather attractive dark-pastel multicoloured dresses) continues much as we are used to, except that her mother does not appear until where her mime scene would normally be – but where is it?! The programme usefully fills us in on what the mime says, but the whole narrative and its music are omitted – far from the first time that this has happened with Russian companies and mime. The hunt arrives rather earlier than we usually expect, and in the absence of Wilfried, who has joined them, Albrecht is left to perform a Hamlet-style soliloquy about whether or not to put his cloak on in order to give Hilarion (Hans, here) reason to notice his strange behaviour. The hunting party (and some very large birds of prey) are out in force, in costumes bright enough to be bordering on "Disneyfied", although they do look fairly opulent, and it is clear why Giselle admires Bathilde's gown so much (incidentally, her mime of her occupation seems to be "carding" rather than sewing).

The hunters disappear and we then have the peasants dancing, Hans among them for a change, in a rather more bucolic and, er, peasant-y, style than we are used to seeing (possibly closer to La Fille Mal Gardée), the girls having changed into low heels and the boys in boots, and tambourines making an appearance, which I always find somewhat out of place in a supposedly Germanic setting. There is no peasant pas de deux/six/huit, but instead 6 girls who we are to presume are Giselle's particular friends come out to dance the 'galop général', and Hans dances too, with some very powerful and showy jumps (incidentally, Albrecht has had very little dancing to do in this first act). Then Giselle and Albrecht return, Hans comes between them, and the end of this scene plays out much as standard, although at the end the men are almost too busy quarrelling about who is to blame for Giselle's death to pay any attention to her body lying just behind them.

Possibly influenced by the fact that it was sandwiched between two performances of the Royal Ballet’s superior production, I was not particularly taken with performances thus far, and have to admit that, not for the first time with certain versions of this ballet, I was tempted to leave at the interval, but fortunately stayed for the second act, which was certainly an improvement on the first.

Act II begins with an extended overture, including a repeat of Giselle's theme. We appear to be on the edge of a forest, with marshland behind, and Giselle's grave is located right at the side of the proscenium arch rather than towards the back, which changes the stage patterns somewhat. The programme, although quite informative about certain aspects, gives no information about the history and derivation of this production, although I suspect that from notes I made at the time it may not be dissimilar to the Kirov production. It certainly seems to follow the basic structure of most other versions, with slight changes for staging.

The company fields a corps of 18 2 Wilis, who manage to maintain a suitably Romantic style to their dancing. Unfortunately, as is so common with Russian companies, their pointe shoes were rather noisy, although in the section where they have to hop in arabesque across the stage the noise seemed to be cancelled out somewhat by the unusual expedient of subtly beefing up the orchestration at the appropriate moments! The principals seemed to be less consistent in style, rather vacillating between Romantic and a more Classical style, although I found them more persuasive in this second act, having found Aulle a little brittle in the first (although her arms did at times appear to be rather too uncontrolled to be believably Romantic). There is a noticeable stylistic difference between the choreography for Hans and that for Albrecht, as befits their different backgrounds. Butrimovich’s big beaten jumps in his solos were not particularly impressive, although the smaller ones were more so, but her dancing was good. Ending, after Giselle has returned to her grave, with Albrecht walking backwards away from her grave, it was a fairly traditional and effective rendition of the second act, but probably not one I’d choose to go back and see again.


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