Last night I went to the ballet for the first time in many years, and was swept up into a different, magical world. A friend and I went to see the English National Ballet's production of Giselle at the New Theatre in Oxford, and were both completely blown away. I've been wanting to go to the ballet for ages, and have particularly hankered after seeing Giselle, probably partly due to the influence of the dreams of Lorna Hill's heroines in her Sadlers Wells books, for whom either Giselle or Odette/Odile (Swan Lake) is the ultimate ambition.
I think I was particularly fortunate in that my reintroduction to the world of ballet was with such a good company, and such an excellent production. The evening began with a 'curtain raiser' by some of the men of the company, in a new piece called Men Y Men, which was performed to music by Rachmaninov. The eight male dancers were topless, with black tights, and against a dark backdrop at times it seemed that only their torsos were visible, weaving and leaping through the air in a mesmerising series of moves. It was exciting, and an excellent prelude to whet our appetites for what was to come.
Giselle was first performed in 1841, but it has lost none of its power to move and entrance its audience. The sets and costumes here were incredible, both in the first act based around Giselle's cottage:
and in the second act, in which the eerie chill of the woods around Giselle's grave was conjured up brilliantly through mysterious lighting and billowing mists, a perfect backdrop for the bewitching gauziness of the beautiful and deadly Wilis:
who was superb: as the shy, then love-struck Giselle of the beginning, courted by Albrecht (an excellent Dmitri Gruzdyev)...
... then convincingly and heart-breakingly driven into madness by his betrayal, before finally emerging as the etherial wraith of the second act, moving so lightly across the stage that it seemed as if she could truly be a ghost, as she strove to save her lover from his intended fate at the hands of the Wilis -- the unquiet spirits of jilted brides who take revenge by forcing men to dance unto the death.
My friend and I emerged from the theatre on a real high, having been completely enchanted by the beauty and emotion we had witnessed. I for one intend to make this the first of many more balletic experiences!
It was a truly magical evening, and was indeed, to use Sir W's phrase from his 1601 essay 'Of Conceit':
'a fancie well disposed'.