Barbara Newman reviews Giselle by the Royal Ballet, and Mark Bruce's re-imagining of The Odyssey

For many people, Jules Perrot’s Romantic masterpiece Giselle represents everything that ballet should be. Retelling a legend still vital and vibrant in the modern world, its sweet sad tale of love and betrayal emerges through full-blooded characters and their stylized but recognizably human behavior.

It offers dancers, especially women, a spectacular opportunity to marry their classical technique to dramatic expressivity, and even a radical alteration of the underlying premise requires a convincing fusion of the two.

The Royal Ballet’s staging by Peter Wright, currently at Covent Garden, sticks faithfully to the steps and conventional mime of the classical vocabulary and to traditional designs.

If we keep returning to this production, which is now 30 years old, we do so to rediscover the familiar characters through new interpreters. On opening night, when the action advanced at a ponderous pace, Sarah Lamb captured Giselle’s innocent trusting nature simply, never hinting that she might be destined for tragedy. Her physical fragility blossomed into drama in Act II as her body seemed to lose its substance and become a vessel brimming with pure spirit.

Giselle, The Royal Ballet

Giselle, The Royal Ballet

In his company debut as Albrecht, which he has danced elsewhere, Matthew Golding partnered her confidently but failed to project his character or fold the role’s bravura demands into it. Ms. Lamb’s experience and her careful interpretation carried the partnership through the evening, and other Albrechts in this troupe are well worth seeing.

The contemporary choreographer Mark Bruce has chosen a different way to interpret ancient legends. His new production, The Odyssey, which opened in the atmospheric surroundings of  Wilton’s Music Hall, transforms Homer’s epic into a graphic novel, episodic, swashbuckling, and despite its violence virtually bloodless.

Involving eleven dancers, most of whom play many parts, and a musical collage of 31 selections that swing from Mozart to pop music to Mr. Bruce’s own compositions, the production tumbles the mythical events through a welter of dance and naturalistic gesture punctuated by the cast’s audible sobs and screams

No one needs a classical education or any knowledge of ballet’s refined language to approach this imaginative production. Dense with edgy attitude, sex, smoke, fantasy and monsters, it could well bring young viewers to dance for the first time and give them a tantalizing taste of its shape-shifting potential.

The Odyssey tours through 28 April. See www.markbrucecompany.com for details.

Wilton’s Music Hall presents Wilton’s Strike!, a free international dance festival, 3-5 May. See www.wiltons.org.uk

Giselle remains in repertory at the Royal Opera House until 15 April, with a live cinema relay on 6 April. Giselle Reimagined features in the company’s Draft Works programme, 1, 9, 15 April. www.roh.org.uk

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