London has had to bide its time for the premiere of Akram Khan’s Giselle; its first warmly received performance was in Manchester back in September. But this captivating take on the romantic classic is more than worth the wait.
Khan’s artistry in creating a work that is both visually stunning and has emotional depth is mightily impressive. The opening moments of eerie quietness as the outcasts are revealed, imprisoned by a solid wall, is reminiscent of the start of Dust, Khan’s work for ENB’s Lest We Forget triple bill, and no less mesmerising. The entire first act is strangely hypnotic and builds to a climax that seems to almost creep up on the viewer, aided by Vincenzo Lamagna’s powerful and relentless score.
Alina Cojocaru is a feisty Giselle, evoking an angst-driven grief that transmits far beyond her tiny frame. However, before her descent into madness there is a beautifully passionate pas de deux with lover Albrecht (Isaac Hernandez), her naturally ethereal quality really shining here. Rarely does one see a ballet where every move and pose could be a scene from a Hollywood epic: Mark Henderson’s lighting design is flawless as we are treated to romantic silhouettes of the two lovers and later to more murky, dusky tones as we return to the outcasts, and lashing of white light reflecting off the hair of the spirits at the abandoned factory.
On the subject of the corps, their important contributions work well to add heft to this reworking. They are the ever-present backbone of Act One, performing Khan’s choreography with intent as well as being in total harmony. In Act Two, as the mystical and bewitching forgotten factory workers of the past, they are a contrast of wild and untamed hair and make-up, but perform with a surprising tidiness in their pointe work (a nice nod to the original) that engulfs a bewildered Albrecht.
Unusually for a such a contemporary take, the costuming here is certainly worthy of praise. The design, in particular of the aristocratic characters’ garments, is show-stopping. Their dramatic entrance is like that of some kind of rock star; one of the female landlords especially could pass as a Lady Gaga tribute. Begona Cao is particularly striking in her glittering gown as Albrecht’s intended, Bathilde. She displays great poise, elegance and subtle disgust at the presence of Giselle and the subsequent examining of her bejewelled glove.
Khan’s new take on this staple of the ballet repertoire is an undoubted triumph and a true credit to the vision of Tamara Rojo. This is an epic work that should be viewed again and again in order to fully appreciate every element of the creative team’s talent in pulling off this total revamp of a much-loved classic.
First published on BroadwayWorld.com #ENBGiselle