The all new, sell out English National Ballet Giselle doesn't come from a classical
creator of pointe shoe perfection, but from the curious and compulsively
collaborative choreographer Akram Khan.
These are pertinent times for a big dividing wall, and a huge concrete specimen blocks the stage on which English National Ballet reinvent this classic.
Divided by the wall are factory workers eking out a living on one side, and their lavishly dressed landlords on the other, for whom the faded workers are little more than entertainment. Except of course for Albrecht, a Duke in the classical original, of the landlord class but hiding his identity to protect his love for young worker Giselle.
Giselle in the classical canon is a delicate, naive creature, a little nymph-like even before her transition to the world of the dead. But Khan has updated the woman as well as the story, and Tamara Rojo in the first cast plays her as an inexperienced but decisive and characterful young woman.
The whole production vibrates with relevance, without toppling into earnestness. The marks of Khan's low-slung, viciously fast choreography bore into the stage and group set pieces like the workers roiling about a dying Giselle and the dance of the murderous Wilis, ghosts of dead factory workers, are utterly captivating.
Khan allows us, too, something that rarely seeps through the pastoral scenes of a traditional Giselle: brutality. Hilarion's death is a masterclass in tension that needs no props or literality to feel disturbingly and explicitly violent.
Thanks to some sharp attention to plot and a quite spectacular performance from First Soloist Cesar Corrales in the first cast, Hilarion's usually unfortunate character is given a starring role, pulling on the power strings on both sides of the wall. Though it will come as no surprise to those who saw Corrales win the 2016 Emerging Dance award, his gut-punch of a performance won't be forgotten quickly.
But another star of the evening didn't even step onto the stage. Vicenzo Lamagna's score, inspired by the Adolphe Adams original and scattered with leitmotifs of the same, was like a collective heartbeat. It pulsed, soared and tore through the ears with everything from strings to industrial sirens and the rush of waves.
Tim Yip, who won an Academy Award for his design in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is responsible for the striking set and the perfect drama of the landlords surreal costumes. Ruth Little, dramaturg on a number of Khan's projects, must be thanked for a forceful narrative without stray ends.
In this second collaboration with Akram Khan, English National Ballet are shaking up a story that is central to the ballet canon, an unlikely combination with Khan's classical Indian style. Entrenched in Romantic classicism, Giselle is a very balletic tragedy of a girl driven mad by love and lies. But we lose none of the key themes here. Love and betrayal, the worlds of the dead and the living, power misused and madness. And we gain the tint of globalisation, personal costs and corporate gain.
Dust, Khan’s first work with ENB and part of the WWI Centenary remembrance, was a creation of heart-stopping power. Giselle lives up to its promise. We hope to see it again and again.
This performance is not suitable for young children, but perfect for teenagers.
|What||English National Ballet: Giselle, Akram Khan at Sadler’s Wells|
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
15 Nov 16 – 19 Nov 16, Also at 2pm on the 17th and 2:30pm on the 19th
20 Sep 17 – 23 Sep 17, Matinées Thursday and Saturday
|Price||£12 - £45|
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|