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English National Ballet Akram Khan's Giselle - Dendy Cinemas

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by JC (subscribe)
I have a had a life-long love of the arts; enjoying theatre, ballet, art and movies. We are all time poor and have limits to our entertainment budget so I hope an honest review will help make your choices easier.
The English National Ballet performance of Akram Khan's Giselle played this weekend at Dendy Cinemas Portside. While the audience seemed unanimous in their appreciation of the dance quality, this modern interpretation of Giselle was not to everyone's taste. Some in the audience were heard reminiscing about the classical production. Not me, I loved this modern take on a classic. I also personally enjoyed the modern costumes, designed by Tim Yip, and the often ominous score composed by Vincenzo Lamagna and performed by English National Ballet Philharmonic. However, others in the audience missed the romantic beauty of a classical Giselle production and found themselves questioning the need for so much darkness in this modern interpretation.

Akram Kan's Giselle
A modern interpretation of Giselle

The classical production of Giselle focuses on the forbidden love between a peasant girl and Albrecht, an aristocrat who is secretly betrothed to another. When Albrecht returns to his betrothed, Giselle dies of a broken heart. This is where the story gets interesting. Giselle's spirit is seduced by the Wilis, a mystical group of women who, having died as broken-hearted virgins, now hate men. The Wilis encourage Giselle to seek revenge and kill Albrecht.

Khan's production opens by introducing the two main characters, Giselle performed by Tamara Rojo and her true love Albrecht performed by James Streeter. Their gentle and tender dance of love winds through the more bleak dance of a group of migrant workers, who appear to be trapped by poverty and a huge rock wall that forms the main backdrop throughout the production. The wall is plastered in sooty hand prints, symbolising a desire to escape the dreariness and apparent hardship of their peasant lives.

Hilarion, played by Jeffrey Cirio, is also introduced in this scene - apparently also in love with Giselle, Hilarion aggressively competes with Albrecht for her attention. Cirio's portrayal of this slippery character was delightful; his performance was my favourite in the production. Cirio's flexibility, power and fluidity were mesmerising.

A change of scene is heralded by a horn and the dramatic tilt of the wall. Now we see the power the wealthy have over the sad masses of the working class. Figures emerge from behind the wall dressed in elaborately beautiful costumes. These costumes and the haughty dance movements define these characters as the super wealthy who are totally detached from the workers struggles. None the less, one woman in this elite group (Bathilde) appears to have desires for the handsome Albrecht. With encouragement from Hilarion, Albrecht leaves Giselle and she dies of a broken heart.

Unlike the classical production, Khan's production gives no clear hint that Albrecht was, in fact, one of the wealthy group and betrothed to Bathilde. Rather, with no other clear motive, he appears seduced by wealth and unmoved by Giselle broken heart. This failure to flesh out Albrecht's story diminishes the performance and leaves the audience confused about the motivation for both his betrayal and Giselle's willingness to forgive him.

In the second act, we meet Giselle's ghost and the very haunting Wilis. Stina Quagabeur leads the dramatic dance performance by the Wilis. With wild hair and dingy dresses, the Wilis appear truly mystical and frighteningly deranged. The use of bamboo sticks throughout the performance effectively adds to the drama, creating a truly chilling performance. Tamara Rojo and Stina Quagabeur spend the majority of this act on point; enhancing the tension in their battle between vengeance and forgiveness.

In the end, Giselle's love conquers the Wilis; Albrecht is forgiven and allowed to live. There is a final duet between Giselle's ghost and Albrecht. This duet is both poignant and sensual and a powerful end to the production.

While the supporting characters in this production were exciting, this was Giselle's story - as the production progressed I too found myself a little bit in love with her.

Sadly this was a limited screening, so you will not be able to add it to your plans for next weekend. However, other films on the Dendy Arts Program look equally exciting. The Dendy Arts Program features filmed international Ballet, Opera and Theatre performances. This July you might enjoy Macbeth performed by London's National Theatre or Cendrillon performed by The Met Opera. For more details follow this link: The Dendy Arts Program
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