Matthew Amer is in no way a ballet aficionado. He could not tell you the difference between first and fourth position, a plié or a pirouette. But English National Ballet's production of Giselle is regarded as a good place for newcomers to start, with its clear, fairytale story and – possibly equally important when you’re trying something new – a reasonable running time (just over two hours, including an interval). So he chasséd off to the press night at the London Coliseum.
Giselle has all the characteristics of your classic fairytale: a peasant girl, a prince, confused identities and a hefty helping of the supernatural. It is the kind of story most of us will recognise, which makes it a doddle to follow for the uninitiated.
Giselle is said peasant girl, who loves to dance. She falls in love with Duke Albrecht (who just happens to be disguised as a peasant himself), which upsets the gamekeeper Hilarion who happens to be in love with Giselle. When Hilarion exposes the Duke for who he really is, it literally shocks Giselle to death.
This all takes place in a German fairytale village designed by David Walker. Autumnal trees frame the stage, while the peasant's houses are wooden framed and thatched, and everyone wears tunics and dresses in different shades of brown. I am sure if you squint you can see a gingerbread house in the distance.
Agnes Oaks's Giselle is a carefree figure, dancing fluently, exuberantly and without thought, the pleasure clear on her face. Thomas Edur's Duke retains a regal poise at all times, even when cheekily hiding from Giselle or trying to steal a kiss. The Peasant Pas de Deux (I know it is called this as it says so in the programme) gives Erina Takahashi and Yat-Sen Chang the chance to express themselves and show off their technical virtuosity.
The one person not to frivolously enjoy the wine-tasting celebrations is Giselle's mother, played by Laura Hussey. It is worth pointing out here that this ballet often uses mime, in addition to dance, to convey dialogue. Hussey does this when warning about the Wilis, the spirits of jilted brides who like nothing better than dancing young men to death.
It is the Wilis – company dancers of the ENB dressed in bridal costumes, steely-eyed and unfeelingly expressionless – that dominate Act II. The Duke, visiting Giselle's grave, is accosted by the ghostly groom-scarers, while the spirit of his former lover attempts to save him.
The entire feel of Oaks's performance changes for this half, shifting between manic, wild steps and sequences with Edur when the dancers appear to be entirely in control of every sinew and hair on their body. The set also changes, with the action taking place in the spooky surrounds of a moonlit, misty forest grove.
Adolphe Adam's score, written specifically for this ballet, moves through light-hearted, and fast-moving for the frivolity of Act I to lush strings and mournful woodwind during the ominous events of Act II.
Giselle is taking part in Get Into London Theatre, with tickets available at £35, £20 for midweek matinees, and just £15 for 16-25 year olds. For more information on Get Into London Theatre, please click here.