Dancing in the title role, Dada Masilo leads her company of fourteen exceptional dancers with theatrical mastery and her signature high speed style. Born and raised in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, Masilo trained in classical ballet and contemporary dance and in Giselle fuses these techniques with a range of African dance traditions, predominantly the Tswana of South Africa’s North West Province.
Giselle marks the fourth classic Masilo has reinterpreted in a decade and cements her growing reputation as a powerful and dynamic choreographic voice on the international stage.
Opening in a lively South African village, Masilo's Giselle tells the story of a trusting peasant girl who is thrust into a world of betrayal and shame when her lover rejects her. Spurned by her family and killed by heartbreak, Giselle returns from the grave as a supernatural being bent on revenge. Barefoot and grounded in her body, Masilo’s protagonist is the antithesis of the weak, frail and vulnerable Giselle with whom we are familiar. Myrtha is recast as a male Sangoma, or traditional South African healer, and the Wilis are both male and female.
Masilo recontextualises the themes of grief and revenge inherent in the original and asserts a timely #metoo twist to the traditional Giselle narrative. Masilo says this is a coincidence as her productionpremiered prior to the #metoo movement, but comments: “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’.”
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 added: “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,” Masilo says. “You hear themes from the original throughout. Philip incorporates this with African percussion, rhythm and voice.”
Dada Masilo’s Giselle received its world premiere at DansensHus, Oslo in 2017, co-commissioned by The Joyce Theater’s Stephen & Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work, the Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, Lyon Dance Biennale 2018, and Sadler’s Wells. Additional commissioning grant from La Batie-Festival in Geneva, with additional funding from the Samro Foundation.