Dada Masilo’s un-pretty, unapologetic Giselle


Dada Masilo, acclaimed South African dancer and choreographer, returns to the National Arts Festival after seven years with her re-imagining of the classical ballet, Giselle. Stripped of what Masilo calls its classical “prettiness”, Dada Masilo’s Giselle debuts to Grahamstown audiences as a display of deceit, betrayal, anger and heartbreak that culminates in a cathartic eruption.

She situates the narrative in a South African cultural context, and this locality connects the audience to the reworked Giselle. Masilo feels that performing her version of this ballet classic is a way of familiarising herself with her roots. Bouts of vernacular, the spiritual presence of Giselle’s ancestors, and Setswana influenced choreography ultimately transfigures the 19th century ballet.

The production crafts a vivid, visceral experience for the audience. The enchanting score that accompanies the re-imagined ballet is composed by Phillip Miller. His musical revision intentionally incorporates elements of the ballet’s traditional score so as not to alienate the classical audience.

Complemented by compelling choreography and dimensional lighting, Dada Masilo’s Giselle engulfs one’s emotional sensibility. There is an undeniable stirring of the gut, moisture in the eye ducts and heaviness in the chest that indicate that one’s body has accompanied Giselle on her journey.

Masilo foregrounds a woman’s right to expressively thrash in the fullness of darker human emotions. In doing so, she reconciles the sterile morality of the original ballet by validating the complexity of these emotions and reveals them as necessary and inevitable.

The daring presentation of choreography with no music or sound at times was a particularly poignant creative decision. The characters’ essential movements offers the audience an honest reflection of our most vulnerable moments when we are faced with deception, despair, and anguish.

The product of the conceptual reconstruction is a performance that coaxes the audience out of their preconceived notions of ideal morality. Once we cross this traditional threshold, we find ourselves in a more refreshing notion of “ever after”. Yes, there is unapologetic anger, revenge, and resentment, but after all this Giselle, quite literally, steps into the liberating light of a life after love.

Article By Ayanda Gigaba
Video Report by Yolanda Mdzeke & Zama Luthuli