The sub-title for this reworking of Giselle, On Love and Other Difficulties, is rather apt.
Created by Amanda Miller, it has lashings of “other difficulties” and is too often saturated by syrupy sentimentality. Giselle is such a familiar work, one familiar to many people albeit through productions of varying quality, but few will have seen it played out in a manner as perplexing and directorially lost as this one.
It was never going to be simple. Miller had brought her own experiences of love and her romantic philosophy of dance into her performance. The overall impression is one of excessive pretension. The entire project is confusing. Bereft of the madness and dynamism of the original drama, there is little motivation to keep watching.
The set is thankfully spare, a few flowers and a lone stool in the corner. But the giant backdrop, depicting a stately interior is removed from the rustic themes of the original ballet. The addition of a funny, little door near the centre of the stage makes no real sense.
Each new appearance brings a new layer of irritation. The costumes, designed by the choreographer herself, look like something from a book of fairy tales illustrated by children. Giselle (Flavia Tabarrini), clad in an elfin costume, fawns all over the grand, red velvet robe of the prince. The men haul their cumbersome cloaks across the stage. It’s all rather messy, both visually and thematically.
The choreography is simple and elegant but unsteady. Miller has retained some of the original features of Giselle but they sit awkwardly next to her own styling. Some of the dancing is empty; and it feels like time-killing, only serving to distract from any sense of plot and character development. The character of the prince lacks regal charm and the other characters are not clearly defined, which might baffle those not familiar with the story.
Giselle herself is lank and awkward, dancing with clattering steps, and jaunty almost clumsy, at least until the second half. Even then, there is a lack of chemistry between her and the prince.
The soaring score often contradicts the stillness on stage though this could at least be seen as an illustration of isolation and weakness. But it doesn’t really work that way; the images and sounds are incongruous with each other. Further absurdity features in the second half when a seemingly headless figure sits centre-stage, while Giselle stands in a bridal gown and shadows are cast over the set. These childlike apparitions are initially frightening, but the effect does not linger long.
This Giselle could have spoken of a love for, and the difficulties involved in, dance; but the results were only difficult to watch as this well-loved ballet was pummeled by a thousand and one ideas that were poorly executed and hard to follow.