This is a complex and compelling piece of performance art which modernises the original story and places Giselle in a factory sweat shop.
Here the ballerinas wearing soft ballet pumps to dance against a gulag looking grey backdrop.
Giselle by the English National Ballet is breathtaking in its beauty of movement while dark, menacing and mesmerising.
We saw it Thursday night at the Bristol Hippodrome where it played to a packed theatre.
This was contemporary and classic dance synergy emerging from the shadows to enthral all.
Giselle is a haunting story of innocence and betrayal – a timeless tale about the redemptive power of love, we are told.
A young migrant worker, Giselle, (Fernanda Oliveira) is in love with wealthy Albrecht (Aitor Arrieta) who hides his status and his engagement to another higher class woman.
Giselle is heartbroken to discovers she has been deceived.
In this version she is killed by double-dealing Hilarion (Victor Prigent) on the orders of the rich factory owners.
On stage it looks as if the corps de ballet is imprisoned by a concrete force, while the orchestra makes some weird and wonderful noises including the repetitive sounds of machinery.
We are entering the imaginary world of Akram Khan, one of the most celebrated and respected dance artists of today.
I first saw this ballet in 2016 and couldn’t wait to see it again.
It opens with stillness, arms stretched and fingers splayed.
There are some robotic movements and some bodies totally entwined.
The second half is danced on pointe by the factory ghosts and there is a moment where the company looks and moves like a flower gently unfolding.
Then in contrast the dancers gallop across the stage like a herd of Camargue horses.
It feels like you vacillate between a prison ship and an Elizabethan court – this could be straight out of a surreal Dr Who episode.
Not sure the relevance of Avenger John Steed’s black bowler hat does, maybe it signals status, a bit like the doormen you get at five star hotels?
Tim Yip’s designs are dramatic, Vincenzo Lamagna’s score is compelling, and Khan’s choreography is very fine indeed.
A group of figures in stiff parchment-coloured shifts and tunics facing a massive wall. Others in silky midi dresses which cling and flutter in a soft breeze we can almost feel.
Some of the original score survives but don’t ask me which!
Albrecht and Giselle’s final pas de deux is entrancingly sad as she hovers between life and death.
The blurb says:
‘Mesmerising choreography, atmospheric lighting by Mark Henderson and a towering set by Academy Award winner Tim Yip conjure up a condemned factory and the vengeful ghosts that appear in its shadows.’
‘The ominous score by Vincenzo Lamagna - adapted from the original by Adolphe Adam and performed live by English National Ballet Philharmonic – intensifies the story’s emotional impact.’
‘See the greatest romantic ballet and its story of love, betrayal, and redemption, boldly reimagined.’
Balletomanes Fiona Erleigh said: “Immediate standing ovation all around for another awesome performance of Akram Khan’s Giselle for English National Ballet on opening night at Bristol Hippodrome.
“This is a much darker story as it points to the inequalities in modern life which are no different to feudal times sadly.
“Wow what a show, it’s been a long time since I saw this live, this was with Alina Cojocaru in September 2019.
“It’s as visceral and heart breaking as it was then.
“I think I forgot to breathe.
English National Ballet dance Giselle reimagined
“My group of friends were all astounded. “All the performers were fabulous; I expected a really deep commitment from Fernanda Oliviera and got it.
“Victor Prigent as Hilarion had good edginess and very smooth moves, maybe not as ‘in your face’ as previous Hilarions have been.
“Isabelle Brouwers was great, completely different to Stina Quagebeur the only other Myrtha I’ve seen.
“Bella was forceful and more human and showed the interaction with Giselle really well.
“What. You don’t want to kill him. why?”
“Aitor was the surprise of the night for me, I’ve not seen him this animated and engaged before.
“Nor had I noticed the amount of virtuoso moves Albrecht has in this version.
“It adds another dimension to the experience when a dancer can do both.
“The corps were superb, so energetic.
“The speed of those moves across the stage always astounds me.”
And Fiona decided it was so good she would see it twice.
She added: “Loved it.
“Can’t wait for repeat viewing at today’s matinee with the Suzuki, Dowden, Woolhouse and Wood in the cast."
The show is performed until Saturday, October 28 with two matinees. Limited online tickets from £32 plus booking fee HERE.
Carol Ann Deacon (with help from Fiona)