English National Ballet has announced the production and release of a live recording of their production of Giselle as reconceived by choreographer Akram Khan. It was filmed at the Liverpool Empire in October 2017, directed for the screen by Ross McGibbon.
Giselle is danced by Tamara Rojo, who commissioned this exciting re-imagining of the romantic classical ballet for the company of which she is Artistic Director. Company Soloist James Streeter is Albrecht, Guest Artist Jeffrey Cirio from American Ballet Theatre is Hilarion and Stina Quagebeur is the Queen of the Wilis.
This is a very different ballet from the romantic creation that Jean Corrali and Jules Perrot choreographed to tell Théophile Gautier’s story. Its plot has the same overall outline but with very different resonances. Akram Khan has created a stunning new work of powerful theatrical impact and thrilling dance to a powerful new score by Vincenzo Lamagna, though those familiar with the nineteenth-century version will recognize the use of some themes from Adolphe Adam’s original.
Khan doesn’t present a girl in a village visited by a handsome lord but a sacked garment factory worker with whom one of the employer class has fallen in love, but the specifics of the story could be interpreted in many ways. The great wall that separates the haves from the have-nots is a barrier that could be a frontier for refugees to cross, the sound of waves at times makes one think of Mediterranean migrants. The contrast between the workers and the fashionable fantasies on its other side emphasises social and economic differences. This wall is a political and humanitarian statement. Khan’s choreography reinforces that feeling.
When I saw this production on stage, I called it stunning and our other reviewers were also knocked out by it. It is a dance work that will engage those who think they don’t like ballet and perhaps convert them with its visceral feeling. None of that is lost in this version, which was commissioned by The Space, the digital agency that supports UK arts organisations in growing their audiences across digital, cinema and broadcast platforms. It is distributed by More2Screen, which provides global entertainment for local cinemas both in the UK and abroad.
Ross MacGibbon is a director who really understands dance theatre. When live relays of dance work often go into close-up, believing that is what is expected by audiences used to work made for the cinema or television, you lose the spacial relationship of the stage picture. Not so here. Just as the eye will focus on a particular feature, so do MacGibbon’s cameras but so beautifully edited that you never feel that you have missed something because it cuts to a framing that puts it in context.
Those close-ups add something extra, not just the expressiveness of the faces, especially of Rojo and Cirio, but emphasising the long-lasting and perfect balance on point of the Wilis. The sound too is richly recorded, the music insistent and emotive. There are moments when in the theatre there was silence but at the preview screening I saw there was a sound like a needle circling the end of a record on a record player which was even more suspenseful. Was it a fault or intended? It was very effective!
Akram Khan’s Giselle will be shown nationally in the UK with screenings starting on 25 April at local cinemas all over the country.