Akram Khan's Giselle
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
Akram Khan’s Giselle reflects the cross-arts collaborations driving ballet through the 21st-century. This is Giselle for the masses, minus the tutus and complete with political undertones, compelling music and a theatricality rivalling the best onscreen costume dramas.
English National Ballet’s superb dancing threads these elements together to reflect the heartbreak of the original Giselle, while set amidst class divides and gender imbalances so indicative of society today.
The thrilling two-act ballet has a meandering first few minutes, lulling us into a false sense of what lies ahead. A disorganised mob clambers towards a massive wall, but then gathers momentum, undulating and stomping with a compelling purpose and fervour that continues until the curtain closes. Giselle, Albrecht and Hilarion remain true to the ballet’s dramatic love triangle, but act it out in a modern-day factory where the landlords wield power over the workers.
As Giselle, Erina Takahashi sheds her fragile exterior to uncover a steely woman whose love for Albrecht (a capable James Streeter) causes her to lose herself.
One of the most harrowing scenes portrays Giselle being silenced by the men around her, forced behind a cape from which she then emerges eternally changed. Her collapse is shrouded over while onlookers turn away, which has chilling parallels today.
Hope still permeates, mainly from the women surrounding Giselle, particularly in the first act, where, upon discovering that Albrecht chose his fiancée Bathilde over her, the cast encircle Giselle, as if trying to lift her up in an impromptu shamanistic ritual.
Indeed, Khan’s choreography excels when the group moves en masse, although the specific hand gestures are equally memorable, particularly a fluttery finger twitch, an outward sign of Giselle’s inner demise, that becomes contagious.
The powerful Stina Quagebeur as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, drives the ballet to its chilling conclusion with determined use of her bamboo-like staff to direct Giselle and her more compliant followers.
No one wins in this story, but the sense of cleansing at the end is propelled by Vincenzo Lamagna's sound design, accompanied by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland, as well as Tim Yip's extraordinary costumes and set, which could be standalone works of art.
Ultimately, the dancing eclipses everything, proving that more than 175 years on, Giselle still remains a testament to the power of dance.
English National Ballet presents Akram Khan's Giselle at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, running until May 6th as part of Dublin Dance Festival. For more information go to bordgaisenergytheatre.ie.