I have just had the pleasure, and the absolute privilege, of watching English National Ballet perform Akram Kahn’s Giselle. I’m not even sure if I can articulate how I feel about this production. Words like phenomenal spring to mind but I’m not sure even that would do it justice.
Every aspect of this reimagined classic has been crafted to perfection. Kahn’s choreography is poignant and eloquent, managing to be both true to the classical ballet style whilst also writhing with an earthy, contemporary edge. The combination of classical motifs, that appear like a breadcrumb trail evoking the original choreography, the bodily contortion and contemporary attack, blended with nods to Kahn’s classical kathak, make for a truly original work of art.
Tamara Rojo is exquisite as Giselle, and carries the complex blend of frantic movement, utter stillness, and expressive gesture with the degree of poise and perfection we come to expect from professional dancers, yet which still manages to astound. Likewise, Stina Quagebuer portrays Myrtha with finesse: exuding other-worldliness and wielding suspense with her every movement.
Along with the incredible performances of the principles and soloists, the artists of the company were truly breathtaking. For me, their portrayal of the Wilis in particular was striking. It was here, in Act 2, where Khan’s incredible conceptual originality shone: through the flawless execution of the artists. Managing to maintain the famous ethereal vision and movement of the classic, Khan brings a raw, underlying tension to the act, the eeriness of which raises the hairs on the back of your neck. The stunning choreography and performance is complimented beautifully by effortlessly flowing costumes; simple yet effective sets and staging; and a haunting use of light.
Circling and weaving through the production is another masterpiece; Vincenzo Lamagna’s score. A perfect blend of symphony and silence, threaded through with industrial sound, Lamanga manages to both enhance the choreography and give it space to breathe and speak for itself. In the music, as with the choreography, there are familiar refrains woven through a new and exciting artistic landscape: I can’t imagine a more successful accompaniment.
As if the artistic virtuosity evident in this production was not enough, this unique retelling carries with it themes both old and new, that resonate with extraordinary power. Love, rejection, betrayal, death, revenge and inequality all have their place in the evidently timeless story, and all are expressed in such a way that invites us to consider the impact of such things in our own communities, and indeed the world.
I congratulate all involved in the planning, production and performance of Giselle; it is truly triumphant.