A classic classic: English National Ballet’s Giselle

London Coliseum
January 11, 2024

The story of the village girl jilted by the Albrecht, a duke, who after death becomes a spirit, a Wili, destined to dance the nights away for all eternity, has all the ingredients you could ask for. It’s the second act that always seems the most powerful, however. Albrecht visits her grave late at night, and falling asleep, dreams that he has to dance all night till he dies of exhaustion (a more realistic narrative than some). Giselle dances with him, keeping him going until dawn, when the spell is broken. Albrecht wakes to a broken heart, and Giselle can sleep peacefully in her grave ever after.

Mary Skeaping’s very traditional version for English National Ballet is a delightful and, in some ways, beautifully naive telling of the story. It is a pleasure to watch in every respect: the dancing is a joy, and the costumes and sets some of the best around.

Katja Khaniukova as Giselle and Aitor Arrieta as Albrecht
in Mary Skeaping’s Giselle for English National Ballet
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Katja Khaniukova gave a wonderfully secure and confident performance in the title role. Her light, compact technique and joyful personality, perfectly matched Giselle’s character. Her mine was clear, and she gave the mad scene just the right amount of pathos, without overdoing it as many dancers tend to do. Her Wili was ethereal and other-worldly. The moment when she appeared from behind her gravestone, seeming to materialise from nothing, provoked a moment of real chill.

Dancing Albrecht for the first time, Aitor Arrieta portrayed him as a man torn between love and duty, ultimately choosing duty, and then being aghast at the consequences of his choice. He was graceful although a little heaviness in his landings was a pity. His turns were excellent, however. His characterisation matched Khaniukova’s Giselle perfectly. As they danced together, they seemed a match made in heaven.

Daniel McCormick and Ivana Bueno
in the Peasant pas de deux in Mary Skeaping’s Giselle
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Elsewhere, a special mention must go to Daniel McCormick in the Peasant pas de deux, another role debut. He seemed to fly around the stage, and his landings were almost imperceptible. It all just confirmed what has been apparent for quite a while: McCormick is a dancer to watch.

The English National Ballet Philharmonic conducted by Gavin Sutherland played magnificently as ever. Strange thought that they were at slight odds with the dancers on several occasions, something particularly noticeable in one of Khaniukova’s solos.

All in all, English National Ballet’s Giselle is a charming, thoroughly enjoyable evening at the ballet. You won’t be disappointed.

English National Ballet perform Mary Skeaping’s Giselle at the London Coliseum to January 21, 2024.