English National Opera
Sadler’s Wells


Akram Khan’s new vision of Giselle for English National Ballet is a brave political reinterpretation of the nineteenth century classic, set to Vincenzo Lamagana’s modern score. Classical ballet purists may find that both deviate too far from the original but there is much to admire.

Khan’s impulse is to take the German medieval tale of a peasant girl’s betrayal by her aristocratic lover and modernise it into a narrative about a former garment factory worker. This Giselle seeks, with her fellow-workers, to enter the privileged world of the factory landlord.  The programme tells us that Khan’s re-creation is inspired by the Manchester textile history and inflected by the use of Bangladeshi and other immigrant workers.  However, without reading the notes, I would not have understood this political history from the staging.  We are used to Shakespeare translated for our times as a way of bringing his texts to new audiences and the same spirit is here.  But does this production do all that Khan wants?

The strength of the work is the use of the ensemble and this is at its most powerful in Act One. Here the symmetry of group choreography, and the weight of the mass, is beautifully fused with the insistent and often repetitive score by Vincenzo Lamagana.  Yet, where there is a satisfying sense of the  community within the creative aspect of this ballet, the loss is to the main story, that of Giselle and her lover Albrecht.

This is most apparent in Act Two where the thrill of Lamagana’s music and Khan’s choreography takes thrilling repetition into to monotony. In the second act,  Giselle is forced to dance her lover to his death as revenge for betrayed love.  However, in Act One, Khan has not given enough choreographic space for the love to be established in order that it may be destroyed.  Therefore the gorgeous erotic pas de deux at the end of the Act between Giselle and Albrecht, exists in isolation and is not the culmination of a dramatic  thread that has been sewn at the top of the ballet.

I am surprised that nobody pointed out that an essential narrative line is missing in this choreographic adventure.  Bravo for the many excellent and imaginative areas but, if the crucial element of love and its betrayal is absent, then  Khan’s political and imaginative vision is only partly realised.

Julia Pascal © 2016.