By Patrick Baldwin, courtesy of English National Ballet
The contrast between Wayne Eagling's prelude Men Y Men and the traditional Giselle couldn't be starker, but both are well danced and fantastically entertaining. Men Y Men grew out of a need to keep the male dancers busy since there's very little for them to do in Giselle. The new choreography isn't simply a catalogue of a male dancer's ballet moves, but has the men partnering one another, as well as allowing the men to show off the physical abilities that come with so much training. There is no set, no plot, no characters; simply nine men in tights dancing, including some moves that are more akin to the breathtaking acrobatics of modern circus than ballet. We can only hope that there is more to come in the future.
Act 1 of Giselle is a complete contrast. Where the prelude brings the movement and music to the fore, the lavish set and costumes provide the setting, and the story requires a laboured introduction to establish the characters and set up the necessary plot devices. If, like us, you're not already familiar with the plot, or the traditions of ballet mime acting, we seriously recommend getting a programme which gives a handy explanation of both so you can follow the action on stage. For a modern audience, the mime acting can appear melodramatic and start to wear, but it's all worth it once the courtship of Giselle begins midway through the first act, and only gets better as the eerie Wilis are introduced in the second. Being centred on the two lovers, Giselle rests on the dancing and emotion of Giselle and Albrecht, and Erina Takahashi and Dmitri Gruzdyev carried it off with aplomb last night. That said, there is more to the production than just the principals: in particular, the ensemble dancing from the Wilis was mesmerising in its near perfect synchronisation.
The opening sections of the first act might be dense for a ballet novice, but bookended by an exciting prelude and the emotionally charged and captivating conclusion of Giselle, this production offers a great chance to enjoy a taste of both modern and traditional ballet.
The ENB perform Giselle and Men Y Men at the London Coliseum until Sunday Jan 24. Tickets from £10.