I went to see Akram Kahn’s version of Giselle (a reimagined version of a famous romantic ballet, first performed in 1841 in Paris). The performance was in Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. It involved powerful choreography, as well as a gothic and ominous music score by Vincenzo Lamagna which was performed by English National Ballet Philharmonic. This is in the art form of dance, specifically ballet. I have seen a few musicals on the stage (like Les Miserables, Wicked and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) but I have never been to a ballet before, I have only gone to a contemporary dance performance.
In Act 1, the rich Albrecht disguises himself as an Outcast (garment factory workers) to see his lover Giselle, however his appearance alerts Hilarion (who loves Giselle despite her not feeling the same way). During this visit, the Landlords (people who own the factory) make an impromptu arrival and part of the party is Bathilde (Albrecht’s fiancée) so he attempts to hide among the rest of the Outcasts. As the Outcasts dance for the Landlords, Hilarion and Albrecht fight/argue over Giselle which causes the Landlords to see Albrecht. Bathilde convinces him to come back to her and Albrecht submits. Seeing this, Giselle is full of grief and sadness. The Landlord gives an order and the Outcasts encircle Giselle until her body is revealed and the Landlords retreat.
In Act 2, an abandoned ‘ghost’ factory is revealed. Still grieving, Albrecht confronts and condemns the Landlords. Then, Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis (ghosts of factory workers who want revenge on the wrongs done to them when they were alive), enters and drives Albrecht away. After, she summons Giselle from her body into death. Hilarion then enters to mourn her and the Wilis surround him and kill him as payback for her death. Albrecht re-enters and becomes aware of Giselle and they reunite on the threshold between life and death and Giselle forgives Albrecht. She releases him back into life, and leaves with the Wilis as Albrecht is left alone at the Wall as it shrinks backwards.
WHAT WAS GOOD
- At the beginning, the lighting was cleverly used to have the Outcasts in complete shadows, so they were simply black shapes, whereas Giselle and Albrecht were illuminated which provided a clear contrast, which could represent the fact that the couple are happy (represented by light) but the workers are miserable (represented by black).
- Hilarion’s movements were designed to show him as a trickster and a meddler, this was because his actions had him close to the floor, with quick, sharp movements that allowed him to travel across the in a short time frame. It gave him a strong sense of character.
- The overall movement was fluid, with little to no effort shown, however the dancing was still sharp and precise.
- Additionally, the dancing from the workers was very repetitive which mimicked their work life as a garment worker, as they would have to repeat the same movements over and over.
- Albrecht was out of place with workers and this was clearly shown through the beginning, he made mistakes when they had to dance for the Landlords (eg. he didn't go down when the others did and kept searching for Giselle as he couldn't spot her in the crowd of the workers instead of dancing).
- The set was very impressive as it involved a rotating, huge wall that separated the Outcasts from the rich and happy Landlords.
- The costume was very useful as it helped to distinguish the individual characters. The Landlords’ costumes were heavily bejewelled and detailed.
- The music was extremely effective and had an intense and ominous sound, which helped to build tension in dramatic parts of the story. It had contrasting dynamics to make it more interesting. Also, each bit of music went perfectly with the ballet and helped to convey their emotions.
- When Giselle died and was surrounded by the Outcasts, they interlocked arms and moved circularly around her, going up and down in canon. This creates a really fluid image and hid Giselle from the audiences’ view.
- When Albrecht and Giselle were reunited the lifts were stunning and complicated, but the dancers made it look effortless. They also showed their emotions really easily (helped by the music) and it was very clear that they loved each other. The dancers had a strong connection which helped to present their love as real as well.
- The Wilis used their sticks to bang against the floor, creating the look of an army. The noise created by them banging contributed to the intensity.
- Even though it was a ballet, a few contemporary style moves were included which helped for the more dramatic parts.
- At the end, when the wall shrunk back and Albrecht was left alone, it was heartbreaking as you could tell he was devastated from losing her, as it looked like he didn’t want to let her go, but Giselle knew she had to leave him.
- Even though it told a clear story, it still left room for the audience to have their own interpretation of what certain things represented or signified, which sparked interesting conversations with the other watchers.
- Everyone was captivated by the dancing and it was completely silent in the audience and everyone was fixated on the stage.
WHAT WAS NOT SO GOOD
It could of been more in sync, like being in sync with the music, there was a couple of times where the dancers did a strong action (like a push) and the music for that would be a second after. Furthermore, when simple movements were elongated or repeated over a relatively long period of time, it did create lots of tension, however, I could understand that it could be seen as a bit too repetitive and could lose the attention of some of the audience (I didn’t experience this though).
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT?
I would definitely recommend it to anyone, whether they have a big interest in dance, or little interest as I think you can still immerse yourself in the dancing and storytelling. As this was my first time seeing a ballet, I’m very happy that ‘Giselle’ was my first one as it really impressed me and inspired me to watch other ballets that I could have dismissed before watching this. It really set the bar high for future ballets that I will certainly watch! Personally, I think that the dance was haunting, raw, emotional and heartbreaking, which is why it will stick with me for a long time.
WHAT I LEARNT
I learnt that it is possible to create a clear story just through dance alone. I could distinguish different emotions and feelings and I felt sympathy for the couple and felt emotional at the end, as the music and the partner work between them really showed everything you needed to know and more. In other words, I learnt that you don’t need words to tell a story.