As we begin our regular musings on “everything ballet” what more fitting than to start with our darlingest of all Covent Garden darlings, Alina Cojocaru, and her return to the stage after a one year long absence earlier this week. We knew it was going to be a special evening, after all, Alina wisely chose to return in the classic that she is most often associated with, Giselle, the ballet that is also a perfect match to her 19th century lithograph physique. And perhaps most importantly, one that is not too taxing as we also expected she would be careful not to over exert herself in tackling the steps.
While, for the above reasons, there were slight changes & toning down to the choreography, Alina portrayed through her pure dancing the most unfussy-but-eloquent of Giselles. Free from any artifice or pyrotechnics, her actions and expressive dancing spoke volumes and touched the heart. All innocence in Act 1, all purity and spirituality in Act 2. And with the very best of Albrechts to match in Johan Kobborg. He showed us, earlier than usual for this ballet, a sincere regret, a realisation of his wrongdoing to Giselle coupled with a sense that the deceitful Albrecht was really falling for this girl, that to see her go mad and suicidal (a heart wrenching mad scene it was!) is deeply distressing to him. Johan’s Albrecht clutches the lifeless Giselle in his arms for much longer than any other Albrechts I have seen in this Royal Ballet run (more on them and their respective Giselles later), he is clearly desperate. Because he understands that letting go is losing all that is goodness and innocence, thankfully for him then (and for us the audience) that he has a chance of redemption in Act 2.
One very minor quibble of mine is that Laura Morera’s Myrtha, the revengeful Queen of the Wilis, was somewhat lacking in “revengefullness”. Laura did not seem as comfortable here as she did playing the Bayadere’s rival Gamzatti a few months ago, and I thought the earlier Myrthas in the production danced with more authority. But overall the performance as a whole and, in particular, Alina and Johan’s partnership felt like a journey back to a different time line in ballet history, one that simply honored romanticism and substance vs. form. A vintage Giselle.
It is something rare to find a ballerina that can actually perform and realise Giselle in both acts. The first act presents a sunny Giselle, a naive girl that dreams of love, while the second act brings us an ethereal creature that becomes broken and is not whole, but whose love manages to redeem Albrecht. Many dancers today usually excel in any of both acts and bring a variety of interpretations through the phrasing and musicality, but Alina Cojocaru truly becomes Giselle.
When she is betrayed by Albrecht, not only does she lose herself and all she holds dearly to her heart, but the audience gasps and stops breathing while the atmosphere becomes filled with her sadness and despair. Her second act is just a thing of wonder: every step, flick of her arms and expression on her face are used to bring the audience into this supernatural world.
We, as Albrecht, are almost in denial of what is happening, entranced by the spell of the Wilis. The only opportunities for us to regain our senses were on Albrecht’s variations. Johan Kobborg was on fire and his jumps and lines were clean, sharp and reaching wonderful heights, but what really struck a chord was that never did he leave Albrecht behind to become Johan, he was always in character, showing pain and accepting his penance after he realised that he became a victim of his own game: he fell for Giselle and now she was lost to him forever.
In this way, when dawn approaches and reality befalls, Albrecht’s pain becomes our pain, since Giselle is gone and at least in this performance, it was clear something magical had happened, something for the ages. A shower of flowers during the curtain calls, and stomping and cheering that celebrated not only the return of Covent Garden’s favourite ballerina, but the appreciation and gratefulness towards Alina and Johan for their dancing and the miracle they had just materialised.