I am always thrilled by a good performance of Giselle, especially when it is informed by choreographic consistency, dramatic fluidity and historical accuracy. That is why, last Friday, I left Sadler’s Wells in a jolly good mood. Indeed, Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s Giselle benefits greatly from the insight of its artistic director Alicia Alonso, a living legend and one of the 20th century’s greatest interpreters of the title role. Alonso’s acute sensitivity to the subtle nuances that underpin the classic does not stem solely from her dancing experience, but also draws clearly on historical research into the choreographic and performing formulae of the Romantic era. Attention to historical detail was clearly evident in many of the distinctive features of the performance I saw: the carriage of the arms, the placement of the corps de ballet on stage in the second act, the restoration of long-deleted scenes and, most of all, the flawless interaction between the choreographic text and the musical one.
In other words, this is a Giselle in which each character moves and ‘acts’ to the correct instrumental ‘voices’, much in line with what Adolphe Adam, one of the first ballet composers to use ‘speaking music’, wanted. This is also a Giselle in which Act II’s dramatic build-up is aptly introduced, as it was in the original 1841 production, by a group of merry hunters who decide to stop in the enchanted wood on their way home at night. The dice-game episode creates a strong link between the subsequent supernatural events and Act I’s ‘earthly’ drama. Finally, this is a Giselle in which the Wilis form artistic and romantic-looking groups all over the stage, instead of moving in the usual regimented way — a feature that belongs more to the Imperial Russian ballet era than to the earlier French Romantic one.