Akram Khan’s Giselle: The Creative Process | English National Ballet

Akram Khan’s Giselle: The Creative Process | English National Ballet


I am a true believer that for any art form to continue to be relevant the works have to be revisited, reinterpreted, re-edited. From the beginning of my artistic directorship, a very important part of my vision was to make classical ballet relevant, to bring it to the audiences of today, to revisit those great stories and maybe put them in a context that represents the world we live in. It is my first interpretation of a classical ballet, working with classical bodies and definitely a classical story… It’s the definitely the first time and it has changed the way I work with the dancers who are playing Giselle. But more importantly for me is: has it changed them? I think the piece is very much about belonging. And it can be conceptual, it can be metaphorical, it could be in a person that you belong to or it could be a place or it could be a city… I think the piece is very much about belonging. I believe that most classical stories survive because their theme is able to transcend time and place and that’s definitely the case with Giselle. The original story of Giselle is very simple really It’s a story of love, betrayal, revenge and forgiveness. All of those absolutely classic… When you start to look at a story that is about injustice and separation, and you realise that that is the story of our times, there was a sense of urgency around telling this story in a way that is not didactic, we don’t want to sit back, this is not work of journalism but emotive and effective in the sense that it reminds us that everything that we do at the moment is connected with these stories of inequality. It’s the great prevailing problem in our lives and it leads to everything to our environmental problems, climate change issues. Dance is one part of their identity and it’s the tool, the language, the vocabulary, the body is the tool to then tell your story. Especially within a classical company, I find it very challenging and interesting because the tool becomes the thing that they’re talking about. It’s not the tools that we’re showing, the form, it’s about the actual story. The tools are just the way to tell that story, but the story about you. I love it when I see people on stage, not actors or dancers. So that was the beginning of the reason why I thought he would be perfect to do a bigger work. The reason why I wanted him specifically for Giselle was because he’s incredibly strong in narrative, but also because of the spirituality of the theme. I believed he could find a different way of putting that on stage. He doesn’t come in and say: “OK you’re doing this, you’re doing that, end of story.” It’s really a discussion between his team obviously a lot with him behind the scenes but also for every rehearsal we sit down we talk about ideas or different inspirations and he said himself that he wants us to be involved. This is a phenomenal time for us because usually, as ballet dancers, we’re told what to do and we have to do that. The way he works in the way he thinks is just so inspiring to the dancer. And he passes so much information to you that you’re allowed to then express yourself within his movement. Everyday we seem to change things, add details and go into the story in a little bit more depth and really be able to go to the core and to the real depth of every movement and the meaning behind each movement. It’s completely different movement vocabulary for us! He’s got such an amazing fusion of classical Indian and contemporary dance which, when he does it, looks phenomenal. It’s almost like filmmaking so it’s just really opened my eyes to how to create a whole ballet. It has been really interesting for all of us to hear his journey and how he changes things all the time and he’s constantly questioning where he’s going. It has been extremely intense mentally, physically… but I think it will really show on stage. The concept that Arkam had in mind, I really felt strongly that I wanted to join in with that. He showed me some footage and I really loved it. Certain things already inspired music in my head so I felt like: “Yeah, I could do that!” I don’t come from the classical world and I’m not formally trained so for me the way of composing is pretty much: I do play most of the stuff myself. And yeah, I could write but I’m really slow and also, it’s a big job for an orchestra. So when I had a chat with Gavin and I realised that there was this beautiful man on the other side helping, ready to help, knowing that the schedule was super tight and we will have to work at night, basically, I said: “Great! This is doable.” My entry into the process is to take Vince’s music and transcribe his original computer envisaged design, sound design, write it down painstakingly slowly, the old way, manuscript and a pencil and then I have to go through the rigorous task of orchestrating it. Now orchestration is a very old-fashioned term for “writing a piece of music for orchestra”. We are not only using traditional instruments but we’re also using some very obscure or unusual percussion instruments and effects. For example, occasionally the orchestra have to be given to some pagan grunting and stamping and humming, so as much as it is challenging the dancers with their language, it’s challenging the orchestra with theirs, as well. Giselle is really special for me because she’s bringing a really strong feeling about this, the kind of feminine beauty and sadness together. Akram gave me a feeling that he always wants things to be neutral, to be simple. They wanted to keep all the language to the movement. That I understood, having worked with him for so long. Our imagination… we always start with really numerous and a lot of ideas but at the end it must come back to really simple. He just keeps that kind of twilight colors on Giselle, so that the whole thing is like a dream but with a simple costume, because all the language, all the message is from the movement and from the dance. I think the original Giselle feeling has to be reformed to another dimension. I believe to ensure that these works continue to survive, that they go beyond 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, 100 years, they need to be opened to new artists and this is why I want to continue to look at the classical repertoire and reinterpret it, reinvigorate it and give chances to the artists of today to look at it and break it apart and put it together in the most wonderful, surprising way.

16 thoughts on “Akram Khan’s Giselle: The Creative Process | English National Ballet

  1. I saw it in Manchester and it was amazing! I don't even have words to describe how much it was beautiful 🙂 I even had tears in my eyes. I really really really hope there will be a dvd. I'm so sorry for mistakes of grammar or vocabulary, I'm not a english native speaker so I struggle about expressing my feelings toward this but yeah… It was absolutely mind blowing I totally adore it, dancers were so expressive and music was so so so beautiful with so much feelings, god this is definitely my est experience 🙂

  2. I saw this at the premier in Sept – and I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was so amazing – intense! I congratulate Tamara Rojo on commissioning this piece from the talented Akram Khan – surely the most important & gifted choreographer in the UK, if not the world. The whole company were excellent and I'm sure Tamara was more than proud! And as other people have said a DVD MUST be made of this production as it is too important not to be recorded. Congratulations ENB on this masterpiece!

  3. A profoundly inspired choreographer manifesting an arresting and transformative sensibility and as if from some other world.

  4. Saw Akram Khan's utterly amazing Giselle on Saturday evening at Sadlers Wells,London… I cannot imagine how the ENB companay performed so freshly following the matinee show as well ! I have never been so touched by the strength and fragility of a ballet : it was simply breathtaking ; every moment a triumph of sinous movement; daring dancing; and my tears flowed towards the intense climatic end. The sounds,the orchestra, the costumes, the sheeer skill and spirituality of this beautifully haunting and stimulating ballet choreographed so brilliantly by Akram Khan will stay in my mind forever .
    Please release a DVD ! I have to see this again and again !

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