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Giselle - a complicated twist of the classic tale

Choreographed by its lead dancer Dada Masilo, Giselle tells the story of a peasant girl who falls in love with a disguised nobleman. Later on she discovers that he will never be hers, and due to the overwhelming grief, she dies from a broken heart.

A classical tale originally performed in 1841, Dada Masilo’s Giselle has here been intertwined with African rhythms and movements. This fusion created a refreshing performance to watch, however the story has been almost entirely lost within the choreography. There was too much space for the audience to interpret what was happening, and as a result it led to the collapse of the plot. It was more of a guessing game, rather than a structured narrative to follow. While it was fairly easy to see the dancers’ various emotions such as pain and love, the story could have meant many different scenarios. The original allowed Masilo to play around with the concepts of family, romantic relationships and femininity. She built her characters who danced to their own plot rather than that of the story of Giselle. This performance would have been far more intriguing and elevating if it would have been allowed to have its own space to develop a plot, rather than having to adapt to ‘Giselle’. There was no need for a choreography of such strength and independence to submit to a narrative that had little compatibility with the nature of the movements.

Masilo’s way of expressing feelings throughout her dancing as well as her choreography and the other dancers, was impressive. The Queen of the Willis (Llewellyn Mnguni) had a particularly eye catching performance. His movements had such strength and precision, yet they were flowing into each other with gentleness at the same time. Giselle (Dada Masilo) as well, was spectacular with an execution that had great emotional strength. This was a choreography without gender, sexuality or race. There were no movements that were executed only by females or males, and often dancers switched. There were a small number of sequences that delivered a creative portrayal of how characters felt: moments of complete silence were filled with intensely fast and frantic dance moves to resemble the heartbreak and despair of the main character.

In addition to this, ‘Giselle’ features the odd sequence here and there of traditional acting, which gave a chance for the audience to understand the story a bit further, especially needed for those unfamiliar with the original classic. However, the acting was almost not worth including, as the dancing needed to work in sync with it to make the storytelling consistent. Which it didn’t.

Despite the confusing first half of ‘Giselle’, the second part still shone through. The music and choreography both complemented each other much more effectively, which ultimately made it more accessible for the audience to engage with the storyline. The artistic décor was very sparse, restricted to an artistic background image and some smoke later in the show, to add further highlights. However, when you have choreography which hardly tells you a story, the background perhaps would have helped, the costumes were well designed and complemented the tone of the dance well though.

Overall, ‘Giselle’ did not live up to our expectations, fuelled by the outstanding reviews plastered over the programme. While the costumes, atmospheric stage backgrounds and moments of character portrayal impressed, the storyline and complicated mix of dance styles left us overwhelmed and confused. When a proposed storyline doesn’t make sense in a dance, it can potentially make the choreography somewhat meaningless. There was no surprise when, looking at the programme, there was no writer mentioned at all. Unfortunately, it showed in the final piece.

Written in collaboration with Grace Pulford. This article can also be found on InQuire's website:

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