Brighton Magazine

The Brighton Magazine

Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Friday 23 August 2019

Interview: Choreographer Dada Masilo On How New Giselle Is Set To Spring A Few Surprises @ Brighton Dome

South African choreographer Dada Masilo's Giselle - which plays at Brighton Dome, this October - brings the ballet into the 21st century. The Soweto-born choreographer and dancer has taken the classic favourite and thoroughly shaken it up so audiences can anticipate the unexpected.

The original ballet, which premiered in Paris in 1841, tells the story of innocent peasant girl Giselle who falls in love with the disguised nobleman Albrecht. 

When she discovers the truth about her lover and that he will never be hers, Giselle is consumed with grief and dies of a broken heart. 

When a remorseful Albrecht visits Giselle's grave, he evokes the wrath of the Wilis (the spirits of girls who have been betrayed in love) and they exact a heavy penance. 

Masilo, whose reinterpretations of other classics including Romeo and Juliet, Carmen and Swan Lake built her an international reputation, felt driven to create a new Giselle.

"It's the challenge of looking at the ballet from a different perspective and dealing with issues that are relevant now. 

"In these stories we are dealing with power struggles, war, greed, domestic violence, rape. These are things I see every day. 

"I'm revisiting the classical ballets to tackle these issues and to start a dialogue with people. To ask 'what are we doing about this?

"I begin with study of the original work. It's important to know the rules before breaking them. 

"In the traditional ballet there is a clear narrative but the characters are rather two-dimensional. 

"The emphasis is on the steps rather than on the unique psychologies of the protagonists - Albrecht and Hilarion seem just there to support the female lead, Giselle's mad scene relies on messy hair…. I wanted to go much deeper and, most importantly, to create Wilis that are really vicious.

"I have always been intrigued by the Wilis. That's where I started. I wanted to see how far I could push the boundaries in terms of having Wilis that are strong, powerful and dangerous.

"In the ballet they all female, dressed in white and very graceful. I wanted to find their violence because Act Two is about revenge. I dressed my Wilis in wine-red, as though they are drenched in blood. This reflects revenge, killing and death."

In the original Giselle the Wilis are the spirits of wronged women. In Masilo's version they are both female and male.


"I love working with androgyny, it creates an interesting dynamic," she says. 

"It's also about breaking down the gender stereotypes – the notion that men are supposed to do this and women are supposed to do that. In dance, that is the norm. 

"The Wilis are spirits so could be either male or female. I wanted to alter the concept that only women are victims. Men also get heart-broken.

"It seems to me that in ballet the men are basically there to lift and support the women. I think it"s time we find gender equality in dance."

Masilo's Giselle has been seen to reflect the #metoo movement in which women worldwide have spoken out about sexual discrimination and the abuse of male power. 

Masilo says this is a coincidence as her Giselle premiered prior to the movement. 

"I did aim to make a work which empowers women who are expected to be understanding, soft, tolerant and forgiving.

"It's also very good for us to acknowledge that we are strong and powerful - and to use that power to say 'I'm not going to take that, enough is enough'. 

"Women need to stand up for themselves more. We are living in a world where men tend to rule and we shy away from our own power. As a woman, and having been brought up by very strong women, I want to share this."

In addition to shifting the story's time and characters, Masilo also changes location.  

"I've set it in rural South Africa so we are dealing with different cultures and traditions. 

"It's about how people interact, how relationships are formed and the dynamics of those relationships in rural South Africa which is completely different from the world of classical ballet," she says.

"I did not consciously set out to 'Africanize' Giselle. It is just there. I am South African - this is where my roots are. 

"My origins and environment infuse my work. I have also studied classical ballet. It's about allowing the two to merge without losing the essence of the work."

For the music, Dada commissioned fellow South African Philip Miller to compose a new score, revisiting some of the original themes by Adolphe Adam, together with newly created music.

"I love what he did," she says. 

"You hear themes from the original throughout. Philip incorporates this with African percussion, rhythm and voice. 

"Generally people who have not been exposed to ballet, its codes and mimetic gestures, tend to avoid it. This is also true in South Africa. 

My aim is to make it accessible. It is called Giselle but tells a story to which everyone can relate without alienating those who are familiar with the ballet."

Dada Masilo trained at The Dance Factory in Johannesburg from the age of 11 and at the age of 19 was selected from nearly 800 other dancers to gain one of just 30 places at the Performing Arts Research and Training Studio in Brussels. This is where she began to choreograph.

"I didn't want to be a choreographer – I thought it would be too much work!" she laughs. 

"I always say 'first I'm a dancer'. I choreograph works that I want to dance. It's what I do and love. Sharing through dance, we learn new things every day.

"It is challenging being both choreographer and dancer because I can't always see everything. 

"Once I have established my intention, I bring in someone I trust to be that outside eye and to give me notes on what I'm doing. 

"I don't think I could just choreograph - I need to be in it to feel it."

She hopes the audience will enjoy the opportunity to see her work.

"I never take audiences for granted. We just do our best work and hope the audience responds. 

"I hope they can feel whatever they feel, whether it is joy, pain, love or anger. I want people to ask questions and to feel emotion – any emotion. 

"And then sit down and talk about Giselle. I do not see art as just entertainment. It is there to teach, inspire and provoke."

Dada Masilo's Giselle at Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Tuesday 29th & Wednesday 30th October 2019. For tickets CLICK HERE.

by: Mike Cobley & Diane Parkes




Share    


To mark twenty years of The Sopranos, three of the biggest characters from the seminal hit show will visit the Brighton Centre, for an up close and personal 'In Conversation' style show.

There Will Be No Intermission is Sussex-bound Amanda Palmer's first solo album in more than six years, as well as being her most powerful and personal collection to date, with songs that tackle the big questions: life, death, grief and how we make sense with it all.

Mystery Jets' new single, Screwdriver - taken from their forthcoming sixth studio album, A Billion Heartbeats -  is an uncompromising look at the rise of the rebranded alt-right in the UK, built around a powerfully positive message: "Fight them with love / then the world will be ours".

“I've learned a lot from making big mistakes,” says Sophie & The Giants' singer Sophie Scott. “When you're younger you think you know how the world works .. but you fucking don't." 

Ralph Pelleymounter's new album, Dead Debutante's Ball, was recorded over ten long days during Britain's hottest summer in decades, and so named “because it's a good title for someone releasing a solo album so late in their career.”
Photographer unknown

As part of Heritage Open Day on later this month, newly acquired photographs of David Bowie performing at Brighton Dome will go on display in the venue for the first time.

“This is an album for anyone who's ever turned to music in a time of crisis, whether personal or political. It's about the solace one can get from listening to music or playing music when everything else has gone wrong. It's about finding kernels of hope and renewal in dire situations.”

“I'm back like super gonorrhea!” announced Bianca Del Rio on her return to the Brighton Centre, this week. Just over a year since the American drag queen's last visit to the venue, reviewer Stephanie Keane made her own second outing to witness the 'clown in a gown' in all her sequined glory.  
Credit Darren Bell

Jason Donovan is about to take his first steps in the role of producer, when the new production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert visits Theatre Royal Brighton, later this year.

It all started with two dubstep acts and a folk band, which perhaps explains the rainbow coalition of genres that spray across the album (Poor Girls/Broken Boys): punk, disco, metal, electronic pop – “all the main food groups” as The Vegan Leather bassist Matt puts it. 

Femme Fatale, the imagined meeting between activist Valerie Solanas and singer Nico, asks what might have happened if two female visionaries with very different methods had locked horns. 

Bestselling author Bill Bryson brings his combination of sharp-eyed humour and depth of knowledge to a celebration of his new book, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, at Charleston, East Sussex, this autumn. 

Archive search

Search our archives for what's on and gone for the best of this city's theatre music comedy news and much more...







Organising a conference or event in Brighton?
See our Brighton Conference section.
Brighton web design by ...ntd