I’ve been meaning to write this review for nearly two months now, so it probably won’t be as good as if I’d written it sooner! Back in October I was lucky enough to go and see Akram Khan’s adaptation of Giselle on English National Ballet before it sold out. I travelled all the way down to the Bristol Hippodrome, which is an absolutely beautiful theatre. I’d never been there before but it reminded me very much of the London Coliseum, to give it a comparison.
I stayed with my friend who’s at university down in Bristol and she ended up coming with me to see the show which was really nice, I just get really excited when my friends show an interest in dance, it makes me so happy that she ended up really loving it, so much so that as soon as it was released with more dates for next year at Sadlers Wells we bought tickets to see it again.
If you’ve not seen or heard anything about the show, I recommend you have a look at the trailer here.
I was slightly apprehensive before going to see this production as obviously it was largely anticipated and everyone was wondering how well it was going to be done. To my knowledge, Matthew Bourne is the only other choreographer who has attempted to go anywhere near such classical well known ballets with his Tchaikovsky trilogy (Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty; all of which I have seen and thoroughly enjoyed) and turn them into entirely contemporised productions.
Before this particular
production, I’d never heard of such an upcoming contemporary dancer/choreographer such as Akram
Khan going anywhere near such a massively famous and successful leading ballet company such as ENB either. I thought it was in
credibly brave of him and think this stepping stone had a lot to do with Tamara Rojo being Artistic Director of the company.
A week or so after I saw Giselle, Khan actually came into my university to give a talk which is part of a new scheme DMU are starting where they’re starting to hold public events as part of a new dance research project. He mentioned here that 4 other ballet companies asked him to do Giselle at around the same time, and he hadn’t even seen it. I thought it was particularly interesting that he said he found Giselle so boring at the beginning that he fell asleep during the first half! He talked about the process of starting Giselle a lot and how he watched it over and over to make sure he’d memorised the original choreography and knew the music inside out and it became very clear that he put a lot of work into knowing the original and working out how he could make it his own and not get negative reviews for ruining such a classic.
It was also the first time he’d worked with so many dancers in one production which he’d never done anything like before. He had the slight advantage of having worked with some of the dancers from ENB before on Dust. He began the process by hiring six former ENB dancers to make work and discover new movement on ballet bodies before going straight in with the whole company. With those dancers, he created a bank of movement, some of which came from Until the Lions and others came from the dancers themselves. That then formed a basis of material for going in with the whole company.
He spoke about how he went in and eliminated the usual hierarchy of the ballet company – the principals became equal to the corps de ballet and everyone were in the studios the same hours and really went in and established his own rules that would’ve been entirely different to the company’s usual way of working. ENB were the first company to give a choreographer three whole months to produce Giselle and stopped performing during this period entirely so that they could be really focussed on the new piece, which is probably why it was so successful as the dancers could adapt to the different way of working.
Onto the actual production then… It came across as much darker than the original classic ballet; the dark lighting and simple set design created an almost sinister location and atmosphere for a darker interpretation of the romantic classic. This immediately set it up to come across as an obvious adaptation rather than an imitation. The characters of Giselle, Hilarian and Albrecht were clearly established from the start and were directly relatable to the original story. The music referenced the original score but had been heavily developed and also contributed largely to the darker mood and atmosphere throughout. There was also a lot of silence included at certain points which I thought was very effective in creating tension and really drawing the audience into the action – when I say silence I mean you could literally hear a pin drop.
I honestly found the performance mind blowing. I’d never seen a ballet company perform anything like it before, it was amazing that such small, simple movements made such powerful statements when performed in unison by the whole company. I think it’s fairly unusual to see really large contemporary companies; so it was refreshing to see that happen on such a mainstream company. Their acting was brilliant the whole time and the costumes were really effective although relatively simple. The pas de deux in the second act was particularly mesmerising and showcased an amazing skill base. Generally speaking, the first half was more dramatic and contemporary based and the second half appeared more magical and balletic, with the women all en pointe. Overall, it was an incredibly brave move for Khan to take on such a classic story that everyone knows, but it noticeably paid off and was very well received.
ENB are also performing the classical version of Giselle soon and I really wish I was going to see it to directly compare the two in my mind. I imagine it’s quite refreshing for the dancers to be able to perform both versions so close together as well.
Buy tickets and discover more here.
Much Love x