Review: Dada Masilo’s Giselle

Richard Lutz watches a classic ballet stunningly turned on its head.



Last month the romantic ballet Giselle filled the stage at Birmingham Hippodrome. This week, South Africa dancer Dada Masilo (centre, above) has re-mixed this classic 19th century work and transported it into a driving, seventy-minute whirlwind of a piece that shakes up the original production into a modern African tour de force.

The minuscule, shaven-headed lead dancer/choreographer gives the 170 year-old ballet not only new spin but new music, new themes and, thankfully, a fierce energy straight out of Johannesburg, where her troupe is based. 

In both productions – new and old – Giselle is brutally spurned by her lover. She dies of grief. In the original, she forgives him from the spirit world. Dada Masilo’s Giselle is made of tougher stuff. Yes, she dies from a broken heart. But with the help of her furies, she punishes and torments the man who betrayed her. Her Giselle is not a victim .But someone who isn’t going to give a deceiving lover an even break. He is hounded, assaulted and bullwhipped by the vengeful Giselle. So much for romantic overtones.

The troupe ditches the 19 century score and comes armed with its own techno composition woven with forceful African folk music. Movement is vigorous, even volatile, but with miles of depth.  Masilo, at first, lovingly creates a quiet and graceful duet with her lover in the early stages of the ballet. But then things change. 

Vengeance runs deep in the second half. Masilo seems to be saying that you’ll can get your comeuppence if you do the dirty on your lover. A far cry from the 1841 romantically-inclined original, then – and a stunning haunting performance at the Hippodrome.

Runs tonight and then tours.