South African choreographer Dada Masilo is bringing a fierce and powerful interpretation of Giselle to the UK this autumn.
It’s the classic story we all know and love with a modern twist. Giselle, a country girl, falls in love with a handsome stranger Albrecht. When he leaves her, she dies of heartbreak and is transformed into a Wili – a ghost who has had her heart broken. “I wanted to do Giselle because I wanted to interrogate the Wilis,” choreographer Dada Masilo said.
“In the ballet the Wilis are seen as being pure. In the narrative they are supposed to be really vicious, strong, dangerous birds that want revenge. I wanted to look at it from that angle and see how far I can take the viciousness.”
Dada Masilo is known for her interpretations of classic ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, Carmen and Swan Lake. She saw Giselle as her next challenge and decided to create a version set in South Africa. Inspired by the cultures and traditions of South Africa – her ballet is a fearless re-imagining of the 19th century ballet.
“I use quite a lot of traditions and rituals that are based in South Africa,” Dada explained. “I worked with a South African composer called Philip Miller who works a lot with voice and percussion. Before that I had never worked with a composer before. It was very interesting and challenging for me to do that and in the beginning it was quite different but what brought us together was the classical ballet music.
“I asked Philip to reference the different themes and from there he was able to reference and then bring in the elements of voice and percussion and rhythm into it. It was interesting when it got to that point but at the start it was really hard as I didn’t know what I wanted and he didn’t know what I wanted. He had never seen or heard Giselle so we really started from nowhere.”
What Dada really wanted to do with this version was to zoom in on the different characters. “You’re not just looking at it from Giselle’s point of view,” she said. “It isn’t one dimensional. The story is told through all the other characters that you don’t really see because when you go to the ballet and watch Giselle you just see Giselle. I really wanted the story to be told from different perspectives.”
Dada takes the classics and re-interprets them because she wants to tackle different issues. “I want to face the social issues that are happening today,” she said. “When I was growing up there were a lot of people from community that don’t understand ballet. So then they felt very alienated from it and didn’t go to watch it, so it is a way of bringing them into it.
“Yes it is Giselle but if they can see social issues that we are dealing with that are relevant to today within that story then it doesn’t alienate them. It is called Giselle but they can relate and that is why I want to do it.”
Dada is keen not to even alienate a dance audience. “It is a contemporary dance piece but I want it to be accessible for ballet audiences too,” she explained. “I want to create work that is more global so that everyone can understand the narrative. It’s not a fairytale because people don’t relate to that anymore, but just for people to be able to relate to the story and understand what is happening.”
Emphasising the main message of the piece, Dada wants to empower women. “I really want to get the message out that women are not just victims,” she said. “We are not these things that are just forgiving, understanding, innocent and pure. That it is okay to stand up for yourself and to speak for yourself because we are living in a society that is trying to squash that.
“Women give birth, I don’t know anything that is stronger than that, so I think we need to come back and empower ourselves. It’s okay to be strong, we don’t have to shy away and just be submissive.”
When people leave Dada Masilo’s interpretation of Giselle, she wants them to feel everything. Whether it’s joy, sadness, anger or anything. I want people to feel everything that they can feel, every emotion they can go through I want them to go through it during this show,” she explained.
“I think that sometimes with contemporary dance, we get to this point where it becomes so abstract that nobody knows what it is that is going on. There is always a message there somewhere, but you don’t get it as an audience member and you leave the theatre feeling very confused – I really don’t want that. I want people to understand the narrative and I want them to feel.”
“I also want them to enjoy the energy of the dancers, the passion, the love that we bring on stage. But most importantly I want them to feel.”
Dada Masilo’s Giselle is touring the UK from the 4th of October to the 2nd of November with Dance Consortium. All dates and details can be found on their website.