Akram Khan’s Giselle at the ENB
Exquisite. Exhilarating. Extraordinary.
The only clear thought my dazzled and dumbstruck spirit had as the curtain came down was: “How the (Gis)hell can I do justice to that?”
Giselle has been one of the most traditional ballets since its 1841 debut and is closely associated with its romanticised setting in a hazy and bucolic Middle Ages. There are serfs and masters, swoopy spirits in white veils and the usual tragically terminal love story. Ballet business as usual.
Until now. From the opening second of Khan’s vital and visceral reworking, the audience is rivetted in their seats and ravished mind, body and soul. By the heartaching end I was left with spine tingling, jaw gaping and tears welling for the sheer beauty of what I had just seen, heard and felt.
This is ballet born anew and, boy, does it mean business.
The powerful corps de ballet in Akram Khan’s Giselle
The show won the 2017 South Bank Sky Arts Award for Best Dance Production and has already been seen by 40,000 people across the UK.
Updating the story to the slums and garment factories of an abstract modern setting is a bold and bracing move to shake the cobwebs off this graveyard melodrama.
As with most ballets, the story is wafer-thin. Boy loves girl but has secret fiancee. Girl finds out. It ends badly.
Somehow, Khan has taken all the pretty posturing and swooning and fashioned a raw and raging examination of love and devotion, betrayal and consequences.
Fittingly, for this is the crowning glory of Tamara Rojo’s tenure as Artistic Director at the ENB, the dancer brings all her glorious technique and peerless passion to the lead role. Lyrical and lovely in the First Act, she rips out our hearts in the Second Act as she desperately dances one last glorious pas de deux with her faithless beau before deciding his fate.
James Streeter is a fine partner as the weak-willed Albrecht while Cesar Corrales prowls the stage as the conniving Hilarion, his kinetic energy exploding into the audience and grabbing us by the throat. Every step, every extension is imbued with intent and it is impossible to take your eyes off him.
The corps de ballet is the most powerful and purposeful I have ever seen. Arms scythe and swoop while legs soar and feet drum in staccato synchronicity. It is a flawless explosion of teamwork that repeatedly takes the breath away.
Most impressive of all is the transformation of the wilis, the dead spirits of the…