Ballet West – Giselle
Eden Court, Inverness
If there was one person I had never expected to see quoted in Ballet West’s Giselle programme, it was comedy legend Sir Billy Connelly.
Yet the Big Yin’s endorsement of the production – both as a (surprise) ballet fan and patron of the Argyll-based dance company – would come as no surprise at all once I’d read what he had to say.
“I went along [to my first ballet] under protest but I was completely surprised, and I’ve been a ballet convert ever since,” he’d written. “I think everyone should have the opportunity to see ballet.”
That makes two of us. I’m very much a late convert to ballet – it wasn’t exactly the sort of event people from my part of the city tended to frequent.
Yet ballet at its best is as sublime as it is ridiculous, a medium of storytelling that bypasses any conventional storytelling logic in favour of taking an audience’s breath away with the grace of its movement, the beauty of its choreography and the dynamics of its score.
Ballet West’s production of Giselle, then, offered a window into the artform – even its pricing proved relatively cheaper than the larger productions, at £17 per seat. It was the perfect opportunity to bed in with ballet.
And for relative dance dunces like myself, it proved a great window in.
Opening with an performance unrelated to the main production, titled Rossini Cocktail, the ten-fifteen minute piece served as a technical showcase for the academy – the 31 dancers pranced and flowed gracefully on and off the bare stage.
It also gently bedded its audience into this world, acclimatising us to the medium like some balletic equivalent of a hyperbaric chamber.
Giselle itself is considered a classic of romantic ballet for a reason. It’s beautiful, tragic, and utterly bonkers – the classic story of “girl meets boy, girl loves boy, boy turns out to be Count betrothed to daughter of Duke, girl dies of broken heart, girl brought back by monstrous spirits to attempt to force Count to dance himself to death” that we’re all familiar with. You know. Proper romance.
Yet you don’t decry a book for its lack of dancing, and likewise there’s no point in criticising any ballet for its buganuts story. The story is a series of broad strokes, the joy is in its details and how it’s told.
Anchoring this story at Eden Court was Ballet West third year student Uyu Hiromoto in the titular role, whose astonishing performance as Giselle appeared almost effortless in its effervescence. Joy, heartache, hysteria, fury, and meloncholy – each emotion flowed through her every move on stage.
Contrast that with the equally remarkable showcase of the company’s principal dancer Natasha Walker, who took the role of Myrtha, Queen of the monstrous Wilis. Natasha brought a cold malevolence to the role, the scowl never quite leaving her face through her every dance, and each step forceful and flowing.
While these two exemplary performers stole the show, the other dancers gamely did their best to keep up – particularly Dylan Waddell, whose performance alongside Lucy Malin in the Peasant Pas de Deux during Act 1 was as much a delight for the audience as it was for the Duke they were ostensibly dancing for.
And that, essentially, is the crux of what makes a ballet enjoyable – whether it can sweep you away through sheer aesthetic and athletic beauty, whether it can convince you to accept the strange worlds it builds.
Ballet West achieved that this night despite the odd technical hiccough – the fog machine that would have provided the eerie ambience through Act 2 was shut off quickly when said ambience was undercut by the coughing fits it provoked from the front rows of the audience.
Yet that issue does not detract from how the academy’s production welcomed its audience into its world. The Big Yin’s right. Ballet should be for everyone – and Ballet West’s Giselle did a good job in proving it.