Tamara Rojo in Akram Khan’s Giselle (C) Laurent Liotardo_preview

English National Ballet
Liverpool Empire
Peter Grant

I still have splendid flashbacks of the English National Ballet’s Nutcracker. ‘Magical and uplifting and timeless’ are words that sum up that special gift especially at Christmas for classical ballet lovers.

Those words can also reflect their astonishing take on Giselle – one of the echoing romantic 19th century creations.

It has now been re-booted in the most inventive and mesmerising of ways.

Following its praise-soaked 2016 UK tour of Giselle, it arrives for just four days here in Liverpool – re-tweaked.

Giselle is the classic tale of love, loss, betrayal and redemption.

Here the supernatural elements come to the fore in such stunning dramatic style.

Now it has been ‘re-imagined’ a word I always worry about. Happily, I never have to worry with the vibrant ENB.

This sharp and striking version from director and choreographer Akram Khan is a brave, wonderful, achievement transfixing the audience from the eerie, visually stunning outset to the overwhelming melancholy climax of the poignant, tearful and passionate pas-de-deux.

The sets and costumes are from academy award winning designer Tim Yip of  the modern classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They hypnotise you – a contrast of starkness and brutal beauty.

The score by Adolphe Adams is adapted by Vincenzo Lamagna and performed by English National Ballet Philharmonic under Gavin Sutherland.

You won’t have heard anything quite like it before. Rhythms that pound and build and build. Layers of atmosphere.

The music seeps and soars in equal measure taking the audience to places they are not usually accustomed to.

That old cliche ‘you couldn’t hear a pin drop’ is brought to mind because there were moment when total on stage silence spoke volumes.

When you see the name Akram Khan you know that you are in safe hands (and feet).

ENB artistic director the inspirational Tamara Rojo clearly relishes the role of Giselle.

She has given Akram the challenge to re-interpret this piece and he responds by making her the spark who re-energises this classic set with her moving and yet gutsy portrayal of a broken woman.

Migrant workers in a clothing factory are separated by a huge wall behind which the landlords keep their distance. It creates a tension throughout and indeed suspense of Hitchcockian proportions.

Man and woman become machines in a grinding existence.

Mark Henderson’s superb lighting – switching from the sensitive to the punchy and powerful provides the perfect setting for the cold, unforgiving backdrop.

The imagery reminded me of the ahead-of-its time film Metroplolis.Indeed, the whole production has a cinematic feel.

The ballet centres on the love triangle that tears hearts apart.

Giselle twisting and contorting her feelings for James Streeter’s aristocratic Albrecht who adores this working class girl.  James is the personification of eloquence.

Jeffrey Curio is Hilarion – the worse kind of bully – in pursuit of our heroine. He dances like a flickering, sinister candle light, casting ominous shadows on the wall.

The Wilis – the ghostly avengers from beyond the grave – are draped in tatty, muddy dresses. They carry large wooden sticks that are idea for spearing men. There is a tribal quality to their appearance as they emerge from the background in true Hammer Horror fashion. Sheer haunting imagery.

If you pardon the pun, they certainly know how to make their pointe.

At just under two hours – including an interval- this two act masterpiece will take you on a unique dance journey.

A standing ovation said it all.

Giselle spirit’s is very much alive and kicking and dancing to perfection in this must see and savour experience.



(5 / 5)

Until Saturday

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