Monthly Archives: August 2019

Giselle: Three Ways to Restage a Classic

With ghosts, heartbreak, tragedy and a female heroine at the centre, Giselle was unlike anything that audiences had seen before when it premiered in Paris in 1841, created by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.

Since its premiere, Giselle has been revived numerous times for the Sadler’s Wells stage, with many of ballet’s biggest names performing the coveted title role. In the 1940s, Margot Fonteyn performed Giselle alongside Robert Helpmann as Albrecht (pictured above), and in 1935 the iconic Alicia Markova took to our stage in the role for which she became famous. She named her 1960 biography ‘Giselle and I’.”

This autumn Sadler’s Wells presents three unique interpretations of Giselle. Here’s everything you need to know about how the leading choreographers and dance companies of today are reviving this ballet classic.

AKRAM KHAN’S GISELLE

With the ambition of working with more contemporary choreographers, English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo invited Akram Khan to recreate Giselle for the company. In his powerful interpretation, Akram infuses the South Asian style of kathak dance with a contemporary movement language and reimagines Giselle as a migrant garment factory worker separated from a life of hope and security. The set features a towering 20ft wall eerily imprinted with handprints, designed by Academy Award winner Tim Yip.

“Giselle in this interpretation is very strong,” says Akram. “She’s one of those characters who embodies hope even when things are really bad. And that’s why somehow she becomes a leader. That’s what you see in a lot of great leaders. You see that they have this innate ability to tap into hope in the most catastrophic situations.”

DADA MASILO’S GISELLE

Dada Masilo’s trailblazing feminist take on Giselle places the heroine in her native South Africa. Deserted by her lover, Giselle – danced by Dada herself in choreography which uses traditional Tswana dance styles – is guided by a Sangoma, a traditional healer. Dada challenges stereotypical gender roles in her production, casting both men and women as the ‘Wilis’, who in the original story are the spirits of women jilted at the altar on their wedding day. Dada breaks with the traditional all-female corps de ballet in white dresses and makes her Giselle a strong, fierce heroine.

“I think it’s really important to not have women be the victim all the time,” says Dada. “There’s more to women than just being understanding and forgiving and soft and pure. It’s very good to break that stereotype and not put people in boxes. Even when it comes to costumes, I’ve just tried to dress everybody the same.”

BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET’S GISELLE

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s restaging of Giselle is the most loyal to the original production. It first entered the company’s repertoire in 1999 and was staged by David Bintley and former Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal and teacher Galina Samsova. Unlike the other two, the design and costumes remain true to the original, with the ghostly spirits known as the ‘Wilis’ dressed all in white and sporting hair styles which became popular in the salons of 19th century Paris following the ballet’s premiere. It’s also accompanied by the Adolphe Adam score, played live by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

“On an emotional level I have always found Giselle to be the most affecting of all classical ballets, and in the 1999 production that Galina and I made, my paramount intention was to provide a setting in which her desperately moving story could be told,” says David Bintley. “Over time all of the ballets comprising the classical canon become subject to the accretions of tradition; I wanted to blow them away and give the dancers a chance to dance and this beautiful, simple, timeless story, a chance to touch people again.”

All three versions of Giselle will be performed at Sadler’s Wells this autumn. For more information and tickets, visit our website.

SADLER’S WELLS ENGAGES YOUNG PEOPLE IN DANCE WITH FREE SUMMER SCHOOLS

We believe dance has a vital and transformative role to play in education. It improves children and young people’s mental and physical wellbeing, including by inspiring creativity, boosting self-confidence, increasing self-awareness and developing discipline, communication and team-working skills.

As part of our work to embed dance in young people’s lives, Sadler’s Wells recently ran a summer school with the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), and delivered dance workshops at the East Education Summer School. Both projects were designed to offer memorable and inspiring opportunities for children and young people to experience and engage with dance.

On International Youth Day, we speak to some of the young participants in the two summer schools to ask about their experience.

Summer School with NYDC

From 29 July to 9 August, we offered 19 students from seven of our Associate Schools in Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets the chance to experience a ‘week in the life of’ NYDC and its current Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva, with bespoke workshops led by members of his company Far From the Norm.

Spotlight centre, in Poplar E14 6GN.   Students will come from Tower Hamlets, Islington, Newham and Haringey

At the beginning of the week, a young participant interviewed Associate Choreographer Jordan Douglas, shining a light on his approach to teaching and take on the role of dance in empowering young people.

What will you be facilitating in the workshop?

“During the course of the week, participants in the NYDC summer school will be taught by a different member of Far from the Norm each day. We will be teaching and introducing dancers to the foundations of different street styles such as house, locking, krump, popping and breaking. We will also be teaching sections from MADHEAD, Botis Seva’s recent production for National Youth Dance Company, as well as works from the company. I will be focusing specifically on house dance and gestural phrases from MADHEAD.”

NYDC Summer School participants.

How do you prepare the young people for the week? Can you describe your approach?

“I start by teaching the students some of the basics of house dance, so we look at groove and footwork. As there is a mixed level of ability in a class, being able to have an adaptable framework is very important in order to get the most out of a session. During the workshop, one of my top priorities is getting the young dancers to interact with each other. This way, you’re creating an environment that is a safe space, which allows the students to feel confident no matter what the challenge is.”

How does dance educate, inspire and empower young people?

“The feeling of learning something new, of working on it, watching it improve and then being able to perform it, is a great one. This, as well as the freedom to express yourself through dance, is very empowering. The creativity within dance can really offer a much-needed break from their standard school subjects and daily activities.”

NYDC Summer School participants with Associate Choreographer Jordan Douglas.

Why is dance a useful/important form of expression for young people to explore?

“The medium of street dance is a lot more connected to youth. Street dance is easily accessible: it’s online, in music videos and at the forefront of fashion. Being able to share a common language takes us one step further to being able to help young people open up to dance.”

At the end of the week, we asked some of the young participants to share some thoughts:

What did you learn during your week at the Summer School with NYDC and Far From The Norm?

“I learnt a lot on how to develop myself as a dancer, but also on how to open up more to things that are difficult.”

“It was interesting to learn about new dance styles, and also to see how professional dancers work.”

“My favourite part was engaging and getting on with people as well as taking on new stuff that was given. I learned more about working together, but also having to learn quickly and keeping up at a fast pace.”

What three words would you use to describe how you felt before the workshop?

“Nervous, scared, anxious”

“Shy, inexperienced, insecure”

“Interested, anticipating, open”

What three words would you use to describe how you felt after the workshop?

“Optimistic, determined, confident”

“Creative, happy, educated”

“Courageous, challenged, proud”

NYDC Summer School participants.

East Education Summer School

During a free, two-week programme held at Here East in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, young east Londoners were given the opportunity to take part in a host of activities and classes delivered by world-leading organisations. These included the six institutions that will be part of East Bank, a new cultural and education district being developed in the park: Sadler’s Wells, the BBC, UAL’s London College of Fashion, UCL and the V&A in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution.

East Education Summer School promotional flyer. Image: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

As part of the summer school, Sadler’s Wells hosted workshops in African dance, led by our Learning & Engagement team, and in rap, grime, music, theatre skills and dramaturgy, led by our Breakin’ Convention team. An evening trip was also arranged during the week for the young participants to enjoy Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, a new production performed by our Resident Company New Adventures. 

We asked some of the participants from Breakin’ Convention’s hip hop theatre workshop to share some of their highlights from the programme.

What was your favourite part of the workshop?

“Showcasing what I’ve got!”

“Having a good time.”

“Meeting new people.”

“Spitting some hard bars!”

“Learning new things.”

“Destroying the stage.”

“Embracing ourselves.”

East Education Summer School participants from Breakin’ Convention’s hip hop theatre workshop pictured with mentors. Image: Theo Godson

National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) is supported using public funding by the Department for Education and Arts Council England.