Dada Masilo’s ‘Giselle’ ballet breaks barriers


REMADE TO PERFECTION: Kyle Rossouw, left, played the prince who caused Mbali (portrayed by Dada Masilo) to die from a broken heart in Masilo’s awe-inspiring revisitation of the ‘Giselle’ Ballet Picture: National Arts Festival

DADA Masilo’s Giselle was everything that makes theatre.

The internationally acclaimed, award-winning choreographer took audiences’ breaths away with an enchanting and contemporary production, leading a most auspicious cast through this awe-inspiring adaptation.

Giselle is a romantic ballet in two acts, first performed in France in June 1841, showing Masilo’s remarkable timing.

Timing is one of the most immaculately done features in this version of Giselle, which ran at this year’s National Arts Festival from June 29 to July 1.

The traditional ballet is about a peasant girl named Giselle, who dies from a broken heart after she discovers that her lover is actually a married man.

In Masilo’s version of events, Mbali (meaning “flower”), a poor black girl from poverty falls hopelessly in love white a caucasian prince charming archetype married to an African queen who commands power with her sturdy poise and powerful facial expressions. Mbali dies from a broken heart when she learns this, and the audience see Masilo defy the odds of nature with her flexibility and speed and agility and – once more – timing, which she keeps by using the technique of “shouting” – which directors use to keep count.

This exceptionally phenomenal director elicited laughter from well-timed expressions from the cast, who wove a lyrical path of physical brilliance through every audience member’s heart.

The magic behind Giselle lay in its African humour: catchphrases which trigger nostalgic chuckles before a leap, a twirl and a “Ha!” as the cast move together in fluid unison, perfectly showcasing months of preparation.

Masilo broke the convention, staging two scenes in this play where she’s stripped: the first time by her mother, to shame her for loving an “other”; and the second time when she discovers she had been taken for a fool, and dies from a broken heart – laying bare and broken on the floor in the Rhodes Theatre.

In the second act, Mbali’s African Ancestors resurrected her, and she and the African Ancestors avenge her death, haunting the prince to his own demise. Rich in metaphors, meaning and substance – Dada Masilo’s Giselle was easily one of the best productions on show at this year’s Festival.

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