Forget the merry folk jigs and wispy waltzes; Akram Khan’s “Giselle” entertains none of the levity associated with its 1841 predecessor, one of the most famous ballets to emerge from the Romantic era. The new production, created for English National Ballet, is an angry rebuke of inequality and social stratification, perceptive in its condemnation and admirable in its intensity. Khan has preserved the broad strokes of Théophile Gautier’s original narrative—the lovers from different worlds, the devastating betrayal, the supernatural revenge—but overhauled its setting and tone to present a dark parable about the failures of globalisation. The first half reveals our protagonist as a former worker in a now-desolate garment factory, a world away from Gautier’s Arcadian country setting, with its sunny peasants and bucolic harvests. The second thrusts her into an ugly underworld haunted by ghosts of workers past, their supernatural wiles less entrancing than they are vicious.
Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hérnandez in Akram Khan's “Giselle.” Photograph by Laurent Liotardo