AKRAM KHAN’S GISELLE | London, Sadler’s Wells

Director and choreographer Akram Khan’s 2016 reimagining of the classic romantic ballet, in a co-production between English National Ballet and Sadler’s Wells, unashamedly thrusts its way into the modern dystopian realm.

Opening with stark yet bold staging, and a striking new score with sound effects (Vincenzo Lamagna), this adaptation moves the ballet away from its original countryside setting, to a haunting – and more socially resonant – backdrop of an abandoned sweatshop. White noise and samples from the factory floor are used to punctuate composer Adolphe Adam’s original 1841 score, with mixed success, and imaginative sound design, worthy of a Hollywood thriller, shocks the audience into welcome discomfort.

Traditional ballet is flecked with the flat feet of contemporary dance and the angular armography of Indian Classical. This creates an impressively original and visceral power within the ensemble pieces, allowing for a brand of physicality not often seen in western ballet. Notably, the death of Giselle – delicately danced by Erina Takahashi – and the chilling pointe work of The Wilis (Act 2) are stunning feats of original choreography and balletic strength. Lighting designer Mark Henderson’s use of silhouette in Act 1 is a bold choice, creating a celebration of shape and form whilst depicting the ‘peasant’ dancers as merely a collection of bodies in a forgotten society.

The new work was immediately heralded as a “masterpiece” in 2016, and enjoying continued international touring, this may well be the most remarkable choreography of our modern era. It should not be missed: Khan is rapidly becoming an icon of our times.

At Sadler’s Wells only 18 – 28 September 2019.

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