BY CHARLIE MCBRIDE
It has been six years since the Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet last visited Galway so needless to say there is great excitement about the company’s forthcoming return to the Town Hall with their staging of Giselle. One of the greatest Romantic ballets, Giselle is visually captivating and hauntingly beautiful. In the Perm Ballet’s production of this perennial classic, glorious costumes coupled with stunning sets and superb dancers guarantee a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
As always, a key figure in making the Perm State Ballet’s visit happen is Galway ballet teacher Regina Rogers. Ahead of the company’s much-anticipated return to the city, she reflected on her relationship with the Perm while looking forward to Giselle. “The challenges and logistical problems in bringing them here are pretty massive when you consider that Perm is in Siberia, 800 miles east of Moscow,” Regina begins. “Bringing a company of its size with all its baggage carts is pretty expensive so it’s a terrific coup for Galway and the Town Hall that we’re getting them back again.
“Last year they were in Dublin and we went to see them do a magnificent production of Swan Lake in the Bord Gais Theatre. Afterwards we met their management team and luckily their current theatre manager is the same man who was manager when the late Mike Diskin and I first travelled to Perm in 1997. He had obviously briefed the current Artistic Director, Alexei Miroshnichenko, about us. Alexei decides which tours they are going to undertake and he told us he had heard about the special relationship between Perm and Galway.
“He said ‘Galway is very close to the hearts of the Perm company. I also know that Michael and yourself were responsible for opening a door for us into Europe.’ That had never dawned on us but he was right because before 1997 Perm had only ever been to China and the US.”
Regina casts her mind back to that fateful first foray to Perm by herself and Mike Diskin; “When Mike and I went out there in 1997 it was alien territory from both perspectives. I always remember the first meeting with the company, it was in a very small dining room and we were having lunch –and lots of drinks! –and they really found it strange that we would travel from the other side of Europe to meet them.
“We had to assure them that there was no hidden agenda, because they still had that Communist mentality which viewed westerners with suspicion. I remember there were six men in grey suits and dark glasses standing behind us throughout the whole meeting. At one point Mike nudged me and said ‘this is like Gorky Park’ and it really was! I think they definitely shadowed us for the first few days. But you have to put it into context, after perestroika Perm was probably the last place to realise that the West wasn’t being ruled by devils with horns. It was a very grim place; Pushkin once referred to Perm as ‘a god-forsaken province and a place of exile and banishment’ and even in 1997 you could still feel that. People in the street wouldn’t look at you, they’d look at the ground, and they weren’t particularly friendly so for the company to actually accept us was quite a difficult thing to do. That might sound crazy now but Perm then was a very different place.”
Mike and Regina’s mission succeeded and later that same year the Perm State Ballet made its first trip to Galway, with Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. In the years that followed their visits became a highlight of the local arts calendar, and were looked forward to as much by the company themselves as by Galway audiences. “I know that they genuinely loved coming to Galway, simply because they were always spoiled rotten,” Regina declares. “I still remember with great fondness how Liam Bluett was wonderful to us when he was with Nortel. They once laid on a sponsored lunch for the Perm company and I can still see the faces of the workers in Nortel when these 48 ballet dancers trooped in all looking svelte and lithe. Then they literally cleared the tables of food like an invading army, it was very funny. This time they are staying in the Salthill Hotel and we are delighted about that. They love walking on the Prom, probably because they are from the Ural mountains, thousands of miles from the sea.”
The Perm’s upcoming visit is their first trip here under the directorship of Alexei Miroshnichenko, who was formerly a dancer with the Marinsky Ballet and has also worked with New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. “Alexei was appointed Artistic Director of Perm in 2009 and he has brought wonderful new ideas,” says Regina. “He particularly likes to highlight the dramatic and express the technique in a ballet. I think he is going to bring a lot of colour in the broadest sense of the word to his ballets. He is fantastic and it’s wonderful for Perm that they got him. Alexei said recently in an interview that ballet is about things you cannot express with words, you have to do it with your body and to be really expressive you have to push your body to the extreme. It’s a very simple statement but it encapsulates the whole thing.”
And so to Giselle. Ever since its first performance, in Paris in 1841, this has been one of the world’s best-loved ballets. Regina outlines what audiences can expect; “Giselle is the great Romantic ballet,” she asserts. “I think we will see a lot of colour and we will see the dancers express their dramatic qualities. Giselle is a ballet of terrific contrasts. Act One gives us this quaint mountain village where Giselle is a very pretty but naïve peasant girl who is courted by a handsome stranger. Although he is disguised as a peasant in reality he is a nobleman, Duke Albrecht. At the end of the Act, Giselle realises she has been betrayed because Albrecht’s betrothed arrives on the scene and he has to admit his engagement.
“There follows the famous ‘mad scene’ in which Giselle is deranged with grief and dies. This scene has led to Giselle being called ‘the Hamlet of ballet’ and it requires the dancer portraying Giselle to also be a very good actress. In Act Two, the mood shifts as we encounter the ghostly spirits of girls who were betrayed in love. At midnight they rise from their graves and woe betide any mortal man who crosses their path because if they catch him they will make him dance until he dies. So it is a ballet of totally different contrasts. The first half is jolly and colourful and festive while the second act is much darker as we enter the land of the spirits. These vengeful spirits surround Albrecht and are on the brink of killing him when, at the climax of the story, the spirit of Giselle saves him because of her love for him. It’s a terrific ballet, even for people who wouldn’t necessarily be ballet aficionados.”
The Perm State Ballet’s Giselle runs at the Town Hall from Wednesday, November 6, to Sunday, November 10, at 8pm nightly. There is also a 3pm matinee performance on Saturday, November 9. Tickets are €30 / €25 for the evening shows while matinee tickets are €25 / €20.