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.


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 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 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.


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.

This International Youth Day, we find out more about the summer activities from the young participants themselves.

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.

Summer School with NYDC highlight video.

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.

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.”

NYDC Summer School participants with NYDC alumna Joshua Attwood.

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 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.”

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.

Young participants during African dance workshop with workshop leader Miles Ncube. Image: Rahil Ahmed.

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. 

Young participants during African dance workshop. Image: Rahil Ahmed.

Young participants during Breakin’ Convention workshop with workshop leader Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade. Image: Rahil Ahmed.

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!”

Young participants (Breakin’ Convention workshop) performing at East Education Summer School showcase. Image: Rahil Ahmed.

“Having a good time.”

Young participants (Breakin’ Convention workshop) performing at East Education Summer School showcase. Image: Rahil Ahmed.

“Meeting new people.”

“Spitting some hard bars!”

Young participants (Breakin’ Convention workshop) performing at East Education Summer School showcase. Image: Rahil Ahmed.

“Learning new things.”

“Destroying the stage.”

Young participants (Breakin’ Convention workshop) performing at East Education Summer School showcase. Image: Rahil Ahmed.

“Embracing ourselves.”

Young participants from Breakin’ Convention’s hip hop theatre workshop with mentors
Education Coordinator Shay D (left), Capo Lee (bottom) and Yomi Sode (right). Image: Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade

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