BWW Review: AKRAM KHAN'S GISELLE, Sadler's Wells
Akram Khan's Giselle is only three years old, but it already has a weighty reputation, as a powerful contemporary reworking of a classic, done with the choreographer's impressive sense of intensity and drama.
After extensive touring across Europe, and even going as far as Chicago earlier in the year, Giselle now returns to London, where many who have been thrilled by it first time around have a chance to absorb it again.
For those unfamiliar with this retelling, there are no peasants, farmers and cheery harvest scene here. Khan's Giselle is one of a community of garment factory workers, which a wealthy Albrecht has infiltrated. This crowd is ruled over by Hilarion, described here as a "shape-shifting fixer". Whether he is entirely human is unclear, but he is also in love with Giselle.
At Wednesday's performance, Tamara Rojo breathed a youthful vulnerability into the central role. I was lucky to be close to the stage and be able to observe every flicker of emotion that crossed her face in a performance already so rich in detail. She is pursued by James Streeter's sincere, but conflicted Albrecht.
Together, Rojo and Streeter are light and delicate, however in the first pas de deux they share - shrouded in romantic lighting that sees them both as silhouettes - the result felt perfunctory, lacking some of the desire needed.
As the factory Landlords make their arrival, Tim Yip's glittering, regal costumes are just as show-stopping as before. First Artist Isabelle Brouwers takes on the role of Albrecht's betrothed, Bathilde, exuding an impressively cold stillness. She delivers the moment where she deliberately drops her glove in front of Giselle with a knowing maturity.
No further can I go without praising the performance of the night in Jeffrey Cirio's Hilarion. His commitment to both the storytelling and physicality of his character's choreography is outstanding. He broods boisterously, unfazed by disrupting the two lovers, within a whirlwind of powerful spins, tumbles and jumps that somehow all finish with miraculous precision.
Act I is perhaps one of the best examples a of finely engineering piece of dance theatre you are likely to see. Each element is now so exquisitely tweaked - not forgetting, of course, the imposing revolving wall that encloses the migrants from another life - that it seems to pass by in a single breath.
As was always the case, the corps de ballet and their finely drilled performances are the backbone of Khan's Giselle. Amongst the bare set in Act I, they evoke the factory setting with their grand hypnotic movements and tight formations. In Act II, their small movements are precise, nearly entirely en pointe, contrasting with their untamed hair as they emerge intent on revenge with their fearless stick-wielding.
The act is commanded skilfully by the icy ferocity of Stina Quagebeur's Myrtha. A steely Queen of the Wills, she reigns forcefully, with just enough hint of ego that her status is never dared disputed.
In two hours that fly by, despite the long and deliberate silences within the score, this chilling reimagining already feels like a classic. Khan has perfected and cleaned every aspect of his Giselle. It's a triumph now and it's hard to see how it won't be for many years to come.