Dada Masilo, Giselle, A Powerful Reinterpretation (contains spoilers)

Giselle is Masilo’s fourth interpretation of a classical work. Her previous offerings were Swan Lake, Carmen and Romeo and Juliet. Masilo is a skilled storyteller, focussed on the psychology of the characters. She gives them what is often a more authentic voice and the chance of justice or redemption. Here, she retains the simplicity of the original story and transports it to an African village. Giselle, a village girl, has her heart broken when she discovers Albrecht, her beloved, is betrothed to another. Overwhelmed by grief, she dies. In the original, Giselle’s love for Albrecht continues after death. She forgives and redeems him, saving him from the wrath of the Wilis, the spirits of maidens betrayed by their lovers. Here, Masilo departs from the original: instead of passivity and forgiveness, she gives us strength, justice and vengeance.

Masilo’s company is trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance and traditional African dance. These influences are present throughout. Masilo, in the title role, has an extraordinary range of movement. She is undulating and fluid, yet staccato and angular. She is grounded into the earth, yet light as a feather. She twists and contorts, yet remains graceful. The famous mad scene at the end of Act I, where Giselle descends into insanity and finally dies from grief is given a twist. Albrecht is revealed as a liar: he is a nobleman engaged to be wed. Whilst he puts on his fine clothes, assuming his noble status, Giselle is stripped, mocked and shunned by the villagers. She revisits in broken, tortured movements her joyous dance of earlier when she believed she had found love. Finally, she collapses to the ground. Her broken corpse is carried off stage.

In Act II all references to classical ballet are left behind. This is the world of the Wilis, here both male and female, the spirits of those betrayed. The movement is rhythmic and pounding, strong and fierce. The Wilis are dressed in blood red. Giselle dances with terrible anger and newfound power. Brandishing a bullwhip, she hunts Albrecht down and kills him. She obtains justice. As Masilo said in the aftershow talk, ‘I don’t feel her deserves to be forgiven.’

Giselle by Dada Masilo was presented by Dance Consortium at Sadlers Wells before touring the UK.