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Akram Khan’s Giselle review at Palace Theatre, Manchester – ‘stunning’

Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez in Giselle at Manchester Opera House. Photo: Laurent Liotardo Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez in Giselle at Manchester Opera House. Photo: Laurent Liotardo
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The first full-length ballet choreographed by Akram Khan should carry a disclaimer explaining that any resemblance to the ballet composed by Adolphe Adam is purely coincidental. This season English National Ballet is also presenting Mary Skeaping’s classical account. But Khan and his team have created a sensational and sensuous 21st century Giselle, rooted in a phantasy present day world of ghost former industrial factories where outcast migrant garment workers are oppressed by a fabulously wealthy landlord class protected by a monolithic wall.

So no pastorals in tutus. No lovers in medieval garb. And in Vincenzo Lamagna’s dark, industrial-sounding, powerfully insistent new score, few recognisable leitmotifs remain from Adam’s ever-popular original.

Instead, Khan retains the theme of romantic passions leading to tragic betrayal and has structured a thrilling dance narrative around the triangular life-and-death love story involving Giselle, Albrecht and Hilarion, with Alina Cojocaru, Isaac Hernandez and Cesar Corrales performing the choreographer’s trademark Kathak-fusion body moves and whiplash contortions with incredible dynamic fluidity and emotional commitment.


At times, the use of lighting, music, stage space and ensemble dynamics on Tim Yip’s wall-dominated set can be quite staggering, often utterly magical. A grief-stricken Giselle encircled by outcast workers turns into a swirling optical illusion. The entire second act, set in a twilight haunted by the hovering otherworldly Wilis, is a masterclass in sustained ensemble pointe work. And here’s a choreographer who is prepared to use lighting and long passages of pin-drop silences and utter stillness to achieve devastating dramatic effect.

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Akram Khan’s stunning re-imagining is destined to become a contemporary classic.