Akram Khan’s Giselle Encapsulates Ragged Ethereality At Sadler's Wells

Akram Khan’s Giselle, Sadler’s Wells ★★★★☆

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Akram Khan’s Giselle Encapsulates Ragged Ethereality At Sadler's Wells Akram Khan’s Giselle, Sadler’s Wells 4
Stina Quagebeur and Jeffrey Cirio in Akram Khan's Giselle (c) Laurent Liotardo

Even if you've never heard of Akram Khan, you’ll probably have seen his work. Khan choreographed a five-minute segment for the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, set to Emeli Sande singing Abide With Me. The piece showcased his unique blend of Kathak and modern dance, in tribute to the victims of the 7/7 attacks.

Tamara Rojo and Isabelle Brouwers in Akram Khan's Giselle (c) Laurent Liotardo

English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo first commissioned Khan to reimagine this classic ballet several years ago, despite Khan’s lack of grounding in ballet. As a result, Khan’s Giselle is a total reinvention of the original.

Tamara Rojo in Akram Khan's Giselle (c) Laurent Liotardo

Khan’s narrative concept keeps only the bare bones of the classic story of love, betrayal, death and forgiveness. Transposing the story from medieval Germany to an ‘abstract’ modern migrant textile factory draws links between Khan's ancestral Bangladesh and Manchester (this version premiered in 2016 at the Manchester International Festival).

However, the setting is a bit of a stretch to make it relevant to modern audiences and the plot line is at times confused for the uninformed or casual observer. Still, there is much here to enjoy for those uninitiated. Defiant of ballet’s stuffy reputation, Khan’s modernised staging of this classic brings an earthiness to temper the opulence of traditional ballet.

Tamara Rojo in Akram Khan's Giselle (c) Laurent Liotardo

Rojo, who also dances Giselle, imbues every movement with exquisite emotion; in particular her duets with James Streeter’s devastating Albrecht are acutely torrid. Even more striking are the corps who move not in perfect, mechanical unison but as organically as leaves on a tree, rippling in the same wind.

Akram Khan’s Giselle, Sadler’s Wells, Roseberry Avenue, EC1R 4TN. Tickets £15-£75, until 28 September 2019.

Last Updated 20 September 2019