I have often wondered why few troupes revive the classic story ballets the way Orson Welles restaged Shakespeare—as when he boldly set “Macbeth” in Haiti, or when he put an anti-fascist spin on “Julius Caesar” right on the cusp of WWII. The answer probably lies in funding difficulties: ballet is a hard enough sell that people don’t like to mess with the sacred cash cows. Against the odds, the English National Ballet’s 2016 production of “Giselle,” which had its NY premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week, dares to be timely. Of all the narrative stalwarts, “Giselle”—which depicts a love triangle across class lines, and then across the grave—probably speaks the most to the current political climate. It was ripe for an update. But “Giselle,” of all the traditional blockbusters, has one of the most solid story structures. Mess with it too much and you risk upsetting its intrinsic balance. The ENB’s version, directed and choreographed by Akram Khan, at times excitingly reimagined the 1841 original, but at others it overshot and lost its way.
Tamara Rojo (centre) with English National Ballet in “Giselle” by Akram Khan. Photograph by Julieta Cervantes