GISELLE @ His Majesty’s Theatre gets 8/10

Giselle @ His Majesty’s Theatre
Friday, March 1, 2019


The beautifully tragic classic ballet, Giselle has been gorgeously reimagined by South African dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo and the performance was visceral, aesthetically pleasing and full of vengeance.

The story follows Giselle (Dada Masilo), a young village girl who, although her mother has promised her to another man, is fiercely pursued by a noble man Albrecht (Xola Willie & Lwando Dutyulwa) and as a result falls in love with him. In a sensual pas de duex the lovers meet and eventually sleep together, the next day, she is heartbroken when Albrecht dismisses her to go off with a noble woman. She dies of a broken heart and is resurrected by the Wilis, a group of spirits who take vengeance on men by making them dance themselves to death, to have her vengeance on the man who used her and threw her away.

Unlike the original story, there is no forgiveness in this adaptation and Masilo’s Giselle is far from the weak and delicate character of the original. She is strong-willed but playful in life and fierce and vengeful in death. She commanded the stage, her movements were mesmerising and emotive, and the tension in the choreography created by the dichotomy of love and hate was entrancing; the light, ethereal movements of love in stark contrast to the heavy turbulent movements of hate. When she was happy she was lithe and graceful, an effortless light breeze wafting across the stage, but when she was angry she was heavy-footed and powerful, a tornado dominating the stage, throwing herself into her dance with such ferocity. The choreography was stunning and the sparse settings and subtle lighting allowed it to be front and centre of the audience’s focus. It blended classical ballet, contemporary and traditional dance and the small company of dancers were phenomenal as they narrated the story with their bodies.

The bright white of the stage floor and projector provided a blank canvas for the lighting and costumes to complement each other and the contrast of the vivid costume and lighting colours created amazing visuals, almost as if a painting was coming to life in front of our eyes. The juxtaposition of the deep blood red of the Wilis’ costume against the vibrant hue of teal created striking and powerful images.

It was disappointing that the music wasn’t performed live as both the dancing and the score by Philip Miller deserved better than a sound system. However, it was perfectly suited to the choreography and combined classical orchestral elements with heavy bass, drum and electronic beats. The traditional dirge Hamba Nhliziyo Yami, translated as “go to heaven my heart, for there is no peace on this Earth”, sung by the funeral procession after Giselle’s death was haunting and gut-wrenching, the grief of Giselle’s mother palpable and affecting.

This performance was a bold and exciting contemporary adaptation of Giselle from a world-class dancer and choreographer and was a great performance to wrap up a stunning festival season.