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Classic ballet en pointe

The story of Giselle is basically a fairy tale and, to my mind, not a very fair one. Set in the Rhineland in the Middle Ages, Giselle (Lilia Oryekhova) is a young peasant girl who is very beautiful and loved by all. The local nob, Duke Albrecht of Silesia (Talagat Kozhabaev) is about to marry his fiancee Bathilde so, in the tradition of fairy tale, decides to sow his wild oats by dressing as a peasant and having some japes.

Albrecht meets Giselle and they fall for each other. Meanwhile, Hilarion (Artem Minakov), a gamekeeper who is also in love with Giselle, has his doubts about Albrecht's intentions. Hilarion tries to convince Giselle that Albrecht is not who he seems, but she is in love and having none of it. When a party of nobles, including Bathilde, arrive in the village Albrecht hurries away for fear of his fiancee recognising him. Ironically Bathilde (just like her fiance) is very taken with Giselle and gives her a valuable necklace as a gift. Hilarion then finds Albrecht's sword and unmasks his duplicity. Giselle finding out that Albrecht is not only not who he says he is, but is already engaged to someone else loses her mind, goes quite mad with grief, and dies.

Principal Dancer Lilia Oryekhova gives a very convincing performance of a woman whose heart has not just been broken, but utterly smashed. It's powerful stuff. It's no surprise when Lilia, who began dancing at eight and turned professional at 16, tells me (through an interpreter) that this is her favourite scene in the whole production and that although "dance is my life" that she enjoys acting as well. She also admits that Giselle is one of her favourite roles.

The first act is a riot of colour provided by the elaborate clothes that the ladies of Bathilde's court wear, the idealised peasant dresses worn by Giselle and the other village girls and, most eye-catching, the vivid costume of Albrecht's much put upon manservant Wilfred. All of the costumes are designed by Elisaveta Dvorkina. The contrast between the first and second acts couldn't be more distinct and the costumes reflect this change.

The different tone is immediately set by the entrance made by Ekaterina Tokareva playing Myrtha the Queen of the Wilis which is stunning, beautiful and just a bit creepy. Giselle is summoned from her grave by the Wili, the ghosts of women dumped at the altar (so many of them!) and exacting their revenge by making mortal men dance until they die.

Poor Hilarion, who did nothing wrong, arrives at Giselle's grave to mourn her but is trapped by the Wili and made to dance to death. Albrecht then arrives and the Wili attempt the same thing, but, despite the fact that he lied to her, and was the main cause of her untimely death, Giselle still loves Albrecht and her love saves him from the Wili. As dawn breaks Albrecht lives, Giselle returns to her grave and he, presumably, returns to his castle, his comfortable life and his fancy fiancee. It all seems pretty unjust to me.

The second act, although fairly monochrome, is extremely dramatic and engrossing. The mainly black and white pallette is powerful, and so many ballerinas, all arrayed in their white 'wedding dresses', looking like 'proper' music box ballerinas, is quite spectacular.

Artistic director Ludmilla Nerubashenko has remained faithful to her late husband and founder of the MCB Victor Smirnov-Golovanov's choreography and production. This is old-school ballet but all the more enjoyable for that.

The set consists of a fairly standard backdrop but an elaborate construction would only detract from the artistry and technique of the dancers. The production is more than enhanced by the live performance of the original music by composer Adolphe Adam.

MCB will also be performing The Nutcracker in Dublin at The Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2 from 26-31 January. Tickets are currently on sale on 0818 719377. Group bookings 01 677 7770. www. bordgaisenergytheatreie

Sunday Independent