Solidly traditional: Birmingham Royal Ballet in Giselle

Birmingham Hippodrome
September 28, 2019

David Mead

This autumn, audiences are discovering there are many ways you can look at Giselle. After the modernism of Akram Khan’s version at Sadler’s Wells recently, Birmingham Royal Ballet deliver solidly traditional fare in their very classic take on the story by Galina Samsova and David Bintley.

It’s a heavy production generally shrouded in gloom. Act One has the village, which seems to be hidden in a deep valley surrounded by cliffs. Masked by foliage that’s run riot, it feels lost in the mists of time. Sunny it is not, although it does sort of set the mood. Act Two then drops us in the creepiest of gothic ruins, a sort of deconsecrated Fountains Abbey but now obscured in a century of greenery.

In all this, Momoko Hirata’s Giselle was a breath of fresh air. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production is not a one of great character depth but Hirata was bright and lively, at least until that moment of betrayal. Hair now down, she suddenly managed to look old and totally broken. It was quite a dramatic transformation. And then she does run herself through with Albrecht’s sword good and proper. None of that dying of a broken heart nonsense here.

Momoko Hirata as Giselle, Marion Tait as her mother and César Morales as AlbrechtPhoto Bill Cooper
Momoko Hirata as Giselle, Marion Tait as her mother and César Morales as Albrecht
Photo Bill Cooper

As Albrecht, César Morales gave the impression of just being swept along by love with never a thought for the consequences and, in Act One, not much of a care for them either. His Act Two portrayal was impressively full of depth and emotion, his face speaking volumes. Am I the only one who wishes we did not see Giselle rise in the final moments, though. How much better it would be to leave him totally alone.

Despite a couple of less secure moments, the supporting cast were on good form. Tzu-chao Chou and Miki Mizutani especially shone in the Peasant pas de deux. But it says much about the ballet that neither of the two moments that stick out in Act One had anything to do with dancing. The first came courtesy of the incomparable Marion Tait as Giselle’s mother. The ‘I’ve got you clocked, sunshine’ look that she gave Albrecht on first meeting him was one never to be forgotten.

Then there’s the horse; the real one that Bathilde arrives on. What is it doing there other than taking the attention away from where it should be? I should not find myself watching its handler whisper sweet nothings to it as it fidgets and stamps its hooves. Or was it actually passing a perceptive comment? At least the live dogs and birds of prey that also used to accompany the hunting party have long gone.

Act Two of Birmingham Royal Ballet's GisellePhoto Bill Cooper
Act Two of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Giselle
Photo Bill Cooper

Act Two sort of wafts by. Samara Downs was appropriately stony-faced as Myrtha, but while her band of Wilis glide around pleasantly enough, they lack power. Incidentally, have you ever wondered what happened afterwards? Presumably Myrtha was none-too-chuffed at having to let Albrecht escape and has Giselle’s card pretty well marked. One images it was an interesting conversation.

If you’re looking for a solid, down-the-line, straightforward, traditional telling of the story (and it is very clear indeed), Birmingham’s Giselle does the job. But is that enough these days? Or is that just me? It does somehow lack punch, much more so than the company’s other classics. Most disappointing, though, and not for the first time, is that it failed to move me.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Giselle continues on tour to the Theatre Royal, Plymouth and Sadler’s Wells, London. Visit for dates and booking links.