Akram Khan's new Giselle is a work of immense confidence and scouring anger. Reimagining one of ballet's most-loved classics, the story of a village girl betrayed by a nobleman, this production is another big, ambitious risk taken by English National Ballet under director Tamara Rojo. It proves to be a triumph for the company and its choreographer. – Zoë Anderson, THE INDEPENDENT, 2016
This first act may be the most thrilling hour of dance I've seen all year. Khan and his crack teamwork with electric intelligence. Scraps of Adolphe Adam's original music skim like memories through Vincenzo Lamagna's pounding, intense score. Mark Henderson lights the dancers from all angles so they look eerily displaced in the dust-swirled air… Khan triumphantly nails the core of the old story and makes it speak to an itinerant new world. – David Jays, THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2016
Full of visual spectacle, every image is exactingly composed thanks to designer Tim Yip and Mark Henderson's lighting – there's lots of dramatic silhouette, or the light just catching the wild hair of the Wilis (spirits), who look like they've escaped from a Japanese horror film, pointe shoes stabbing the floor like needles. This is an epic Giselle, and a triumph. – Lyndsey Winship, THE EVENING STANDARD, 2016
Khan's choreography has never looked better. Working with such finely tuned ballet dancers has given his movement more uplift, especially in the extremely tender duets for Giselle and Albrecht. Yet it's the sensational group dances that resonate most: earthbound, visceral, feral and intense, and moulded with a sculptural beauty. – Debra Craine, THE TIMES, 2016
The whole company dances superbly and are a pleasure to watch, and one of the most impressive elements in the evening was Vincenzo Lamagna's music. With just a hint of the original score, Lamagna moved from profound evil to tender love while never breaking the story's thread. At least ENB is marketing a winner. – Jeffery Taylor, THE SUNDAY EXPRESS, 2017
Mr. Khan has found a movement language that combines an earthy, rooted physicality with balletic grace and power, and he both invokes the detailed hand moves and gestural richness of kathak, and discretely alludes to the original choreography. The first act is filled with an exhilarating group dance. The second act, with its frightening streaming-haired wilis has horror-movie frissons and beauty in equal parts, with a moving and brilliantly inventive pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht… Bravo to the entire company, which performs with impressive commitment, clearly energized by Mr. Khan's work. The gamble was worthwhile. – Roslyn Sulcas, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2016
Albrecht and Giselle's final pas de deux is entrancingly sad. She's not dead, but she's not quite alive, either. They circle each other, their touches feather-light. He embraces her; she slips through his arms and vanishes, never to return. Flaws and narrative lacunae notwithstanding, this is a hugely impressive production and ENB's dancers do it full justice. – Luke Jennings, THE OBSERVER, 2016
It would be something of a spoiler to describe how Khan reproduces the spook-factor of the original second act, in which the so-called wilis, the ghosts of betrayed young girls, hunt down passing men and take their revenge. Let's just say he matches it, surpasses it even. The person behind me was audibly enthralled, and quietly sobbed throughout the final minutes. – Jenny Gilbert, THE ARTS DESK, 2017
The gamble paid off. Akram Khan's bold reimagining of Giselle has proved a critical and commercial success for Tamara Rojo's English National Ballet. – Louise Levene, FINANCIAL TIMES, 2017
The power of this evening lies less in the plotting than in the visually transfixing world created on stage. The wall is used to monumental effect: a sinister class barrier in Act 1, it becomes a portal into the industrial hell of Act 2, where Giselle and the ghosts of other betrayed women dance vengeance on their men. Khan's choreography rises to the scale of his set design. He uses his 40-strong cast to impressive effect, not only in the big, thrumming ensemble dances, but also in the elaboration of choreographic imagery; the fluid weave of bodies that rise protectively around the dying Giselle, the human threshing machine created by the Wilis as they wield their warrior staves, their feet drumming lethally on pointe.
Stylistically, Khan has steeped himself in the language of ballet, but reinvented it with a rhythmic and visceral heft and a new gestural vocabulary. – Judith Mackrell, THE GUARDIAN, 2016
Ever since Matthew Bourne's ‘gay' Swan Lake 20 years ago, we've become used to the idea of revamping sacred ballet classics. But in taking on Giselle, Akram Khan hasn't simply jumped on to a trendy bandwagon: he has produced something profoundly different – and very special indeed…
But this is also English National Ballet's triumph. The corps rises magnificently to Khan's taxing demands… A final bravo to ENB's director, Tamara Rojo, who commissioned the ballet. It may well rank as a masterpiece of 21st-century dance. – Rupert Christiansen, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY, 2016
English National Ballet ON TOUR with Akram Khan's Giselle until 6 May 2018
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
Will someone please summarize the re-telling of the story. Without that these critical snips mean little.
Of course! This is how the theatre programme sums it up:
Giselle is one of a community of migrant garment factory workers (the Outcasts). Dispossessed of their jobs by the factory’s closure, and separated by a high wall from their hopes of livelihood and security, the Outcasts function as little more than exotic entertainment for the factory Landlords. In Act I, the wealthy Albrecht disguises himself as an Outcast in order to visit his lover Giselle. But his presence is noted by Hilarion – Giselle’s would-be lover – a shape-changing ‘fixer’ who trades with and mimics the Landlords for his own and his community’s profit.
Albrecht’s wooing of Giselle is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of the Landlords. Seeing his fiancée Bathilde among them, Albrecht tries to hide. Giselle recognizes the fine dress worn by Bathilde as the product of her own factory labour. The Outcasts dance for the Landlords until Albrecht and Hilarion disturb the Ceremony with their conflict. Bathilde’s father confronts Albrecht, forcing him to return to Bathilde and to their world. When he submits and returns to Bathilde, Giselle is driven mad with grief. The Landlord gives a command, and the Outcasts encircle Giselle. When the crowd disperses, her lifeless body is revealed. Denying any responsibility, the Landlords retreat beneath the Wall.
A wrecked, abandoned ‘ghost’ factory is revealed – a place where Giselle and her female co-workers have labored, and many have died. Here Albrecht, grieving for Giselle, confronts and condemns the Landlords.
Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis (ghosts of factory workers who seek revenge for the wrongs done to them in life), enters, driving Albrecht away. She summons Giselle from her lifeless body into the realm of death, to join the company of the remorseless Wilis.
Hilarion enters to mourn at Giselle’s grave. The Wilis surround him, demanding retribution for Giselle’s death, and Hilarion is brutally killed.
Albrecht returns and becomes aware of Giselle’s presence. The lovers are reunited on the threshold between life and death. Breaking the cycle of violence – and defying Myrtha’s command – Giselle forgives Albrecht and releases him into life. The Wilis depart with Giselle, and Albrecht, now an outcast from his own community, is left alone by the Wall.