SeeSaw_970x90px-1.gif
Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival

The marvellous Masilo

1 March 2019

Perth Festival review: Dada Masilo’s Giselle ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 28 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Like all the great Romantic ballets, Giselle doesn’t read well from a contemporary feminist perspective.

Its female protagonist goes mad and dies halfway through the work because she’s been deceived by a man. Then the second act is populated by wilis – ethereal, evil female spirits bent on dancing men to their deaths. And at the end of it all, the man is forgiven and saved, as the female lead disappears.

Hmph.

What is both clever and immensely satisfying about South African choreographer Dada Masilo’s version of Giselle is that she tweaks this plot only slightly to achieve a completely different result. The magic of the transformation is embedded as much in the choreographic, musical and design choices as it is in the storyline.

From early on in Masilo’s Giselle, those familiar with the traditional version will notice that Philip Miller’s eclectic composition includes pops of the original Adolphe Adam score, but manipulated; distorted, distended, overlain with African drumming.

The dancers make occasional references to the original choreography too, but predominantly the movement is a blend of contemporary and traditional African dance. Feet skitter, arms curlicue, heads dip. It’s peppered with claps, calls and – occasionally – conversation, and framed by William Kentridge’s whimsical pencil sketch of a sparse South African rural vista. In contrast to Act I’s delicate, simpering balletic “Friends”, here we see Giselle’s friends get down with some serious booty-shaking. Later, the vibe shifts to swing; the music, big band style.

And then there are the two Act I pas de deux between Giselle and Albrecht, danced with joyful abandon by Masilo and Xola Willie (on opening night). Whereas in traditional Romantic pas de deux the dancers’ bodies barely touch and passion is communicated with longing glances, here we see Giselle’s body slide down Albrecht’s. The dance is punctuated by their audible breaths; arms fling skyward with an exhalation and float sensuously down. When Albrecht whirls Giselle around we feel the dizziness of their attraction. Their final kiss rings through the air.

As Masilo notes in the program, in the traditional Giselle, the famous “mad scene relies on messy hair”. Shaven-headed, Masilo’s Giselle pulls not at her hair but at her clothes. Writhing and screaming she is stripped back in every sense. The baying onlookers are, perhaps, figments of her imagination who fade away with the light, leaving her to die alone, her crumpled outline just discernible.

And so to the Wilis.

Forget other-worldly wraiths in ghostly white. Against a minimalist forest of shards and slivers lit luminous green, these wilis are crimson-clad, their tulle bustles a tongue-in-cheek nod to tutus past. Wafting port de bras and delicate bourees are replaced with flicking hands, stamping feet and war calls. Turning the whole wispy women trope on its head, they’re earthly and androgynous. Male and female, they’re led by a transgender Myrtha – a sangoma (a traditional South African healer) rather than a spirit – danced by the sensational and stately Lllewellyn Mnguni. Towering and muscular she wields long blonde hair and a blonde-haired switch, both of which she whips with ferocity.

Dado Masilo’s Giselle is at once liberating and devastating. It is performed with power and conviction by its compelling cast.  Leading her dancers as Giselle, Masilo is simply captivating, as she moves through innocence, heartbreak and anger to freedom.

If you aren’t familiar with original Giselle, it’s worth taking some time on YouTube to fill in the gaps before you see this version.

But most importantly – whatever you do – make sure you see Masilo’s marvellous Giselle.

Dada Masilo’s Giselle plays His Majesty’s Theatre until March 2.

Pictured top: Dada Masilo (centre) is simply captivating as Giselle. Photo: John Hogg.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

Past Articles

  • ARTS Impact winners announced

    ARTS Impact WA, the state’s new philanthropic collective, has selected and announced the winners of its first funding round at a special event held at Freo.Social.

  • What to SEE: June gig guide

    Wondering what to SEE this June? Check out Seesaw Mag’s gig guide for the hottest tips across theatre, music, circus, dance, visual arts and more!

Read Next

  • Reading time • 7 minutesVisual Art
  • Susie Althorp, immerse (close up), 2021, porcelain, stainless steel wire, nylon thread, yellow light, Photo credit Lee Walter A close up of Susie Althorp's work for Hatched: National Graduate Survey. The image is of beads and leaf-like objects threaded onto wire and bathed in golden light. Freshly hatched statements
    Reviews

    Freshly hatched statements

    24 May 2022

    Newly graduated artists take a lively approach to the dilemmas and delights we currently face, in the latest iteration of PICA’s “Hatched” exhibition, writes Kim Kirkman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesVisual Art
  • Irwin Street Collective concert at Callaway Auditorium. A young man in a grey jacket sits at a piano. He has a look of concentration as he plays the instrument. We can see various other musicians behind him Great masters and young stars align
    Reviews

    Great masters and young stars align

    23 May 2022

    The Irwin Street Collective focuses on breathing new life into old music but their latest concert also provided a showcase for a future star, writes Stewart Smith.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio