Friday 21 September 2018

'Have I just outed myself as a cultureless barbarian?' - a first-timer reviews the ballet at Bord Gais Energy Theatre

Ballet virgin Rob Kenny's review of ‘Akram Khan’s ‘Giselle’ at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo
Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo

Rob Kenny

Digital influencer, PR and Digital Director, and first time ballet attendee Rob Kenny gives his take on Akram Khan’s Giselle at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre...

As someone who has never attended the ballet before, when I received a press invite to attend the opening night of Akram Khan’s ‘Giselle’, performed by the English National Ballet, I RSVP’d yes within seconds. As a complete ballet novice, the names ‘Akram Khan’ and ‘Giselle’ meant nothing to me (have I just outed myself as a cultureless barbarian?). However the impressive title of ‘the English National Ballet’ was enough to inform any newcomer that this was a show of prestige.

Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo
Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo

We arrived to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre just in time to take our seats. I brought my friend Imogen along, who I had insisted in advance wears a ‘dressy’ outfit and heels. I mean, it was the ballet? First thing that comes to mind for me is Russian royalty in ballgowns, peering through golden binoculars. Turns out I was way off-kilter, even jeans are fitting to wear to the ballet in Dublin. The style stakes at this particular show however were substantially bumped up a notch, with Irish designer Sonya Lennon sitting in front of us with her daughter.

Without having done an ounce of research in advance, I only learned on the night that this was a 21st century, contemporary take on one of the greatest romantic ballets of all time. The dance opened with a mob of what I guessed to be peasants, based on the styling. As a ballet virgin, within the first minute I was completely enthralled by how these incredibly talented dancers can move their bodies.

Rob Kenny and his friend Imogen
Rob Kenny and his friend Imogen
Rob Kenny

One of the most remarkable moments for me early on in the gripping two-act show, was to learn how the set of 40 dancers can move in complete, complicated synchronicity. Even as a lead character splits out to spill their soul, through what can only be described as dance artistry, the rest of the cast always has an important complimentary role to play in setting the atmosphere and telling the story. It boggles the mind to think of how much thought goes into each and every scene.

The telling of a complete, dramatic story solely through dance is overall the most profound learning for me from attending my first ballet. Remembering there is never any speaking involved, a story of love, betrayal and redemption is intensely communicated throughout Giselle. Though for any newbie-attendee like me, I would recommend some light research in advance. I had made a good stab at what was going in the first half, however robbing Sonya Lennon’s programme during the interval brought the storyline into focus for me, and ultimately made the second half more enjoyable than the first.

Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo
Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo

As beautiful and mesmerising as Giselle is to lose yourself in, at its core is a very dark narrative, rife with gender and class discrimination. Including the silencing of women by powerful men. A topic eerily still relevant in society today, considering this is a romantic ballet written for a Parisian audience in 1841.

The spellbinding choreography throughout Khan’s production leaves you wondering how that was a two hour show. Each of the two acts feels at most 20 minutes, as your mind floats between marvelling at the brilliance of the choreography and keeping up with the storyline. For any fellow culture-deprived ballet virgins, who are perhaps considering their first show, I can assure you, particularly with a contemporary ballet performance, that it is far less grandiose and far more enjoyable experience than you are expecting.

Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo
Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo
Akram Kahan Giselle. PHOTO: Laurent Liotardo

Akram Khan’s stunning new version of Giselle runs at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until today, Sun 6 May as part of the 2018 Dublin Dance Festival (which will run from 2 – 20 May), this will be the very first time that the renowned English National Ballet performs in Dublin.

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