10 March 2011 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Giselle - like never before

I don’t know where Mari-Louise Basson’s performance in Redha’s Giselle on 5 March came from. Its skill, beauty and physicality left me shaken, tearful, exhausted and elated, emotions that were reflected and magnified in Basson as she took her bow to a standing ovation at the end of the performance, staged as part of the 2011 Dance Umbrella.

Choreographer Redha Benteifour has taken the story of Giselle, a romantic ballet which debuted in 1841, and reworked it into a powerful contemporary narrative set in apartheid-era South Africa.

It’s was a daring move - and a risky one. The story is highly charged and the issues are emotive.  The score is a mix of the original, cut with the sound of sirens, township chatter, opera and an Afrikaans lullaby. The choreography is brutally demanding. The set is spare, the lighting dramatic and the pace relentless.

I don’t think there are that many dancers who could pull it off. But the dancers from the Tshwane Dance Theatre Company, directed by Esther Nasser, did. Their performance was full of controlled violence and empathy for an era that most of them would be too young to remember. Their dancing was at times powerful, at times poignant, but always precise and expressive.

Good as they were, though, Basson shone as Giselle, dancing a range of emotions that moved from endearingly cheeky to intensely self-aware, defiant, afraid. Her performance culminated in tangible outrage, despair and death. I cried.

It was the most committed performance I have ever seen, showing off the strange, antagonistic poetry of Redha’s choerography and making the story live in the audience as well as on the stage with its terrible, terrible beauty.

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