Giselle at the Royal Opera House

Hayward is the Giselle

The Royal Ballet’s most recent revival of Sir Peter Wright’s 1985 production of Giselle brings with it a flurry of débuts from within and outside the company.

At Friday’s schools’ matinée, Francesca Hayward made her highly-anticipated début as the title character alongside Alexander Campbell in his début as Albrecht, replacing an injured Marcelino Sambé.

As far as ballets go, Giselle is a tricky one.

The ballet begins with peasant dancing in Act I and is set in deep pliés, penchés and balancés. Giselle has a particularly wholesome variation with arabesques, pirouettes, hops en pointe and a manège.  However, in Act II we move into the world of the Wilis where the movements are less weighty – high lifts and big jumps take over.

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Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in Act I

Little more can be said of Hayward’s acting – from ill-fated Juliet to wayward Lise in Ashton’s La Fille mal Gardée, her versatility knows no bounds.

Few ballerinas are able to act with such proficiency, fewer are able to do so while dancing – even the most celebrate ballerinas sacrifice one for the other at various points, but throughout Hayward is dedicated in both regards.

She is small, even by ballerina standards, standing at a mere 5’2.  You would never know – her long feet stretch as she starts her entrance in a series of ballonnés (jumps as seen below by Natalia Osipova), she teases with several balances in arabesques and is so easily musical it feels as though she holds the conductor’s baton.

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Though he is certainly a more natural comedian than romantic, Campbell too deserves praise for his performance.  He allows Hayward her moments and reacts accordingly. When given his chance he dazzles with beats and spins like a top let loose.

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Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in Act I

At the start of the second act, The Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, enters alone to dance a variation starting with some tricky arabesque and promenades.  Dressed in white against a startling dark set there is no room for error.

As Myrtha, Mayara Magri (in her début) starts off wonderfully, entering the stage with tight, generous bourrées – if one ignores her beautifully arched feet she appears to float across the space like the spirit she is portraying.

Her promenades fall slightly short of the mark as she finds a balance, but this is all quickly forgotten as she slices the air with sharp lines and jumps (jetés, saut de basques, entrechats, you name it she does it).  Her landings are just as spectacular; void of sound – has the floor been removed?

Magri’s reactions are natural, she shivers at Giselle’s love for Albrecht and when the sun rises she is wrought with anger as Hayward turns her head up in thanks for the sunrise.

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Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in Act II

While Hayward punctuates her Giselle with several glorious moments, for me, the simplest are the most effective.

In her Act II entrance variation, as Myrtha sweeps Giselle’s veil away, Hayward rises in a breath before a quick soutenu to put her on her preferred foot before some dizzying (and well-executed) hops.

The cohort of Wilis too must be praised – spare one messy Wili, there were few times where their sharp arabesques, stark lines and steely glares fall out of sync as they successfully dance Hilarion to his death and attempt to do the same to Albrecht.

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Artists of the Royal Ballet as the Wilis in Act II

In Act I Tristan Dyer and Elizabeth Harrod lead the pas de six.  There is nothing very striking about the pair but it is a treat to see the promising Joseph Sissens as one of the other males (and a shame he wasn’t given Dyer’s place).  He moves effortlessly through the choreography, certain of each step.

Leticia Stock and Gemma Pitchley-Gale are a sight for sore eyes in their pas de deux – they dance as one down to every minute detail of their port de bras.

After the performance, one audience member remarked, “This is my 32nd year watching Giselle and this… this is one of the best.  The first I saw was Lesley Collier…” (Hayward’s coach).

Another put it quite simply, “Francesca is everything.”

It is plain that Hayward isn’t a Giselle.  She is the Giselle.

Hayward, Campbell and Magri dance once for the public on February 9th, a sold out performance.  Tickets may become available – more information is available on the website of the Royal Opera House.

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Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in Act II

 

All photos: Helen Maybanks (2018) with kind permission of the Royal Opera House

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