This Hopkins Center production will be the US premiere of Dada Masilo’s much-anticipated reimagined version of Giselle.
By Susan B. Apel
Following her gender-upending and wholly non-traditional rendering of the ballet Swan Lake in 2016, South African choreographer and dancer Dada Masilo is returning to Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts. Her choice of ballet is not a surprise. Masilo had dropped some not-so-subtle hints about her next project, commenting to the New York Times last year, “’I’ve done flamenco, Zulu dance, West African dance, and now I’m learning the dance of my own Tswana culture.’ . . . She paused. ‘I’m thinking Giselle.’”
This Hopkins Center production will be the US premiere of Masilo’s much-anticipated and reimagined Giselle. Judging from her past work, one can expect that she will respect the bones of this classic ballet while providing plenty of tweaks,, incorporating movements from modern and African dance while playing with issues of gender and class. Critics of Masilo’s approach to the classics question the artistic power of her interpretations the further they move from traditional choreography. How far might that be? In, to be sure, a glowing review last year on The Arts Fuse, Janine Parker remarked of Masilo’s Swan Lake that there was “something James Brownian about it.” It may be the first time that the choreography of a classic ballet was compared to that of the Godfather of Soul, a juxtaposition that Masilo would likely welcome.
Masilo herself is dancing the lead in this production. Her character, Giselle, with a weakened heart and a passion for dancing, becomes part of love triangle that can only lead to tragedy. (Coincidentally, Giselle’s family fears that her dancing may lead to her death; Masilo has reported that her real-life family feared that her own zeal for dance got in the way of a respectable profession, like an accountant or a lawyer.) The first act sets up the doomed romance storyline; the second addresses the fate of Giselle’s lovers. Is revenge sweet, or will they be forgiven and redeemed?
Music for this production is by South African composer Phillip Miller; visual material by artist William Kentridge, with whom Masilo has previously collaborated on various projects.
Masilo, who is in her early 30s, grew up partly under South African apartheid. Because ballet was the province of the privileged white middle class, she did not begin to dance until the age of 10. As an artist, she is fond of philosophizing, of commenting on larger political issues “I don’t just want to be a body in space. I want to open up conversations about issues like homophobia and domestic violence . . . ,” topics she sees as particularly relevant (though certainly not restricted) to her homeland.
The Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover NH strives to present world-renowned veteran and cutting edge artists whose work tends to be staged in major cities, rather than in rural New England. As recognition of this mission, the Hop became one of only three recent New Hampshire recipients of an “Art Works” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant will help to support both the presentation of Masilo’s Giselle, which was co-commissioned by the Hopkins Center and, later in the spring (April 5), a commissioned work by composer Jia Daqun, to be performed by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.
Giselle will be on stage at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College on March 30 and 31. Due to nudity, language, and mature content, this production is recommended for ages 14 and up.
Susan B. Apel is a writer and law professor whose creative nonfiction and poetry has appeared in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Best of Vine Leaves 2015, Rhizomes, The Vignette Review, Woven Tale Press, Bloodroot, and the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. Her blog, ArtfulEdge, in which she writes about arts in the Upper Connecticut River Valley, appears regularly on the dailyUV.com. She is also a contributor to the newspaper, Vermont Woman. She lives in Lebanon, NH.