Giselle. English national ballet. Tamara Rojo. Akram Khan

Few names shine in the firmament of classical ballet like that of Giselle with two I, a romantic ballet whose choreography evolves over time, which the greatest dancers bring to life. The Wilis are a Slavic drama about the ghosts of young brides who died before their wedding day, wandering around cemeteries where they attract men by making them dance to their death. How many versions of Giselle have we seen, how many times have we been touched by the virtuosity and the heartbreak of this lover whose sincerity is flouted by the man who conquers her, dressed in a lie? How many Natalia Osipova, Svetlana Zakharova, have carried the torch of this precious dance, whose choreography has crossed the previous centuries by combining classical grace and technical virtuosity? Akram Kahn takes up the project again this year, in complicity with Tamara Rojo who is dancing it, and he transfers the deceptive love of the prince and the village girl to a factory owner who mistreats the migrants. Here an exemplary drama of the class struggle, this impossible love still occurs between the one who had nothing and the one who had everything, the love of the one who loves the one who has everything as if he had nothing.

In this October 15, 2022, Fernanda Oliveira dances Giselle, with Aitor Arrieta, instead of Tamara Rojo, director of the company, the previous days.

The first act states an alert dance, leaping from the crowd to the heroes, the joyful impulse of the lover towards her lover and her companions, everything comes alive with a twirling life and graceful love. The talent of the dancing couple immediately sets up the luminous grammar that they will offer us. Then we witness the stiff intrusion of the powerful, choppy and even martial, and the drama is tied up, of the lover belonging to this world who mistreats Giselle's people when he seduces her while pretending to be part of it. The imbalance is revealed, and the incisive dance incarnates it, digs it, abrupt gestures, jerks, on a martial music, and military steps move the arrogant assembly of the Wealthy in front of the group of the Banished, from which at first nothing precise emerges. We follow Albert in his circaales around a Giselle who at first is reserved, until she finally gets fired up and responds, and his dance then comes to life in a superb pas de deux. And so begins what will make this ballet something more than a simple interpretation renewed to the taste of the day. He does not simply take from the historical version, the moments of bravery and excellence, the superb jumps, the jetés, the pas de deux that run through it and make its interpreters acclaimed. The choreographer seizes this drama, reformulates its music, its scene, and its dance, and they become Akram Kahn's Giselle, daughter of the century, a work in its entirety.

The painful discovery of the duplicity of the lover turns into a desperate dance for the heroine, unfolds in a kind of terrible flowering, where she is encircled by a multitude of petals that little by little swallow her up, a superb mise en scène of this pain that leads her to death. The Madness scene, which has already illuminated many talents, displays here an intense emotion at the culmination of this first act, where Akram Khan sparklingly delivers the judgment of our century on this melodrama, the scorned love, the cynicism of the wealthy, the seducer taking advantage of the poor and sincere soul of woman. No woman on spikes from now on comes to aerate the gestures which slam, the cold grace of the crowds draws this implacable border where the love between the man and the woman fails as of a common curse with that where the man exploits the man.

Then begins the second act, where everything changes, an apparent miracle, when all is consummated, when death reigns, appeasing and icy. The people of the ghosts, Wilis who have lost love and life, dance in their kingdom, and the queen awakens her companions to their task of mortal seduction of unfaithful men. The scene is filled with the blue glitter of the elves, which are spread out in a twirling fashion, because there everything is blue and white and the women are on spikes. Everything takes on this ethereal and glittering beauty, for this call of death in which Giselle, a newcomer, is integrated. The living lover who cries on her grave discovers her who looks at him and escapes as soon as he wants to seize her, then she lets herself slip again between his arms where she faints again. This pas de deux now takes on a softness, an infinite grace, a luminous despair animates this lost love, giving the dance the languor of what is lost and accomplished, the impulse of which the end has already sounded.

Then the people of the Wilis seduce and persecute a lover who has appeared, dragging him into a disheveled dance, a mad vertigo in which he bounces, sent from one dancer to another to make him lose his breath. They all surround him in this frantic waltz until he rolls into the abyss from exhaustion and anguish. Discovering Albert, the Wilis are about to treat him in the same way, but Giselle interferes and gives him the cross of her tomb to defend himself. The Queen then bewitches her, and she is prey to a fiery and strangely marvelous dance, diabolical and enchanted at the same time. So much so that her lover drops his weapon to join her in a dazzling pas de deux of grace and virtuosity, soon surrounded by the fearsome elves. When the sun rises, the Wilis fade away, and Giselle shares their fate, brought back to her death by the nascent gleams. She collapses and is diluted in the arms which in vain hold her, and she points out to her lover the fiancee who is waiting, before disappearing into the flowers. A great melodrama, animated by its lively, contemporary interpretation, precious moments of dance, a superb scene.


Akram Khan | direction et chorégraphie
Tim Yip | conception visuelle et costumes
Vincenzo Lamagna | composition et conception sonore, d’après la trame originale d’Adolphe Adam
Mark Henderson | lumières
Ruth Little | dramaturgie
Gavin Sutherland | orchestration sonore

Tamara Rojo, Isaac Hernández (12 et 14 octobre)
Erina Takahashi, James Streeter (13 octobre)
Fernanda Oliveira, Aitor Arrieta (15 octobre)