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AS REVENGEFUL as it is romantic, Dada Masilo’s adaptation is a far cry from the traditional chocolate box Giselle. The fourth classical ballet that the choreographer and lead performer has reinterpreted, it draws on the dance and culture of her native South Africa.
The basic storyline remains unchanged in this production by Masilo and Dance Factory Johannesburg — a peasant girl dies of a broken heart after discovering that her lover, a disguised nobleman, is betrothed to someone else. A group of supernatural women, the Wilis, then summon her from the grave and target her beau for death.
In this version, the Queen of the Wilis is a fly-whisk toting Sangoma — a traditional healer, danced by Llewellyn Mnguni — and the women she leads have all been betrayed in love. But rather than being sad, they are out for revenge and their vibrant red costumes and earthbound movements, drawing on tribal dance traditions, communicate power and energy.
Their anger makes the Wilis modern and relatable and with its contemporary electronic and string score, gender-fluid casting, chants and Yami funeral hymn, the production crackles with youthful energy.
It’s also made contemporary in its use of humour and dialogue, particularly from Giselle’s mother Berthe (Sinazo Bokolo).
The second act may be the most radically reworked and visually compelling but the opening act is subtly subversive. It paints a vivid picture of workers and landed gentry, the whips calling to mind slave owners, while the duets between Giselle and Albrecht (Kyle Rossouw) are sensual and playful.
Curled semi-naked on the floor, the proudly shaven-headed Masilo in the title role doesn’t need a mess of hair to convey a descent into madness.
Bold and colourful, she has created a Giselle that resonates with modern times.
Tours until November 2, details: danceconsortium.com
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