David Dawson’s production of Giselle for Dresden SemperOper is his first full-length narrative ballet. It remains true to the original concept of a tragic love story but extends the spiritual reconciliation of the lovers across the mortal divide, allowing Albrecht a cathartic release from guilt and mourning. For Théophile Gautier the apogee of the ballet was the Romantic second act of misty nocturnal poetry. This timeless version is released from the ghostly graveyard into an almost metaphysical world of vision-filled dreams. He has dispensed with the Gothic horror of deathless sirens but kept an important innovation accredited to the original Giselle – that of ‘danced action’; expressing emotion through the movements.
The structure success is underpinned by David Coleman’s reworking of the original score. Cutting all later additions and using only Adolphe Adam’s music, it brings a welcome cohesion to the ballet. Act I is about real people with all their strength and weakness. The mad scene is toned down, Giselle dies by accidentally falling on Albrecht’s knife; melodrama is replaced by human drama. The shower of red cherry blossoms symbolising the loss of life also introduces a welcome dash of colour in a clinically pale setting. The flower left on Giselle’s doorstep by Hilarion and the lily offered to Giselle by Bathilde continue the flower metaphor. With no class differences, Albrecht’s shady secret is his membership of a tattoo-touting gang. Led by the glamorous Bathilde, it injects sexually charged danger and a fine dance role. The harvest is replaced with wedding festivities, giving the opportunity to introduce the myth of the Wilis and a virtuoso display of dance. Dawson has introduced variations that will stand the test of time and have future audiences watching with the same eager anticipation with which we watch dancers match their skills to classical set pieces.
Act II opens with Albrecht isolated in a pool of light fighting internal demons of guilt. The scene expands as shards of misty moonlight pick out ghostly figures. The leading Wili stretches and coils her infinite limbs followed by a dozen sisters. The costumes expose the legs while the upper bodies are wreathed in chiffon, creating otherworldly shapes. This heightens the drama as Giselle removes her veils and reveals her face in the poignant duet with Albrecht. The days when ballerinas starred and lesser ranks filled the gaps are long gone. Dawson’s demanding and innovative choreography offers twenty-first century dancers what they need to develop and sustain their technique.
Maggie Foyer | Dance Europe
The stage for act 1 portrays an imposing white no man’s land of diagonals in the middle distance, spiral-appearing house entries on the sides. In this ambience, two worlds - certainly also two life plans - collide: a pastel-colored light gang of youths and, in deep black, the mystery surrounding Bathilde and her three suitors. No longer the idyll of night against court etiquette, but a conflict that has moved into everyday human affairs.
Volker Draeger | Neues Deutschland
A lot could be said to in order to appreciate the dance in this performance; therefore, details will have to be mentioned, such as Dawson’s special way of guiding the arms of his wonderful dance partners, in gestures that never become poses. In terms of dancing, the roles of Giselle and Albrecht are a celebration of the most beautiful of the performing arts. The choreographic richness of the powers of expression of the 36 year-old Englishman can stand up to those of his great colleagues. Dawson tells a story that is as fresh as it is palpable. So many emotions prevail that logic has to be sent on vacation.
Boris Michael Gruhl | klassik.com
What is fascinating in this great evening of ballet is its coherence. The moving, dense emotions of the scenery, the bewitchingly soft and extremely bounds-breaking movements of the dancers, the intimacy of the pas de deux, the vitality and divine lightness of the group arrangements become a sort of additionally extracted filtrate from all this, a concentrate of what has washed over from the 19th century, as it were. As weaving and scattering beings beneath poetically guided veils, the Wilis appear here as nocturnal thoughts, feelings of guilt, depressions and desperate impulses of hope regarding reconciliation with Albrecht. Led by the prime Wili, they float and buzz around Albrecht as an inner expression and moving confrontation of his entire range of feelings, which is now breaking open.
Ursula Fuchs-Materny | Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten
Thus, Dawson ventures for the first time to a ballet d’action, and he succeeds in staging a remarkably intense piece with distinctive idiosyncrasy. Altogether, the choreographer finds his expression in the most beautiful motion, above all in the abstract. Consciously not striving for perfection, yet sensuous, elegant, powerful. Excellent dancers are required for such a celebration of the corporeal. The audience is noticeably touched by the atmospheric spirit scenes, so close as a divinely intimate present.
Gabriele Gorgas | Sächsische Zeitung
Enchanting scenery, excellent dance performances in an up-to-date standard pronunciation – this is the way in which the masterpiece of classic-romantic ballet of 1841 has been impeccably translated for our time. And with thunderous applause, foot-stomping and bravos, the Sunday-night audience celebrated the first full-evening piece by Semperoper choreographer David Dawson.
Claudia Homberg | Dresdner Morgenpost
With a great deal of applause, the audience in the Semperoper soaked up the premiere of the ballet Giselle. House choreographer David Dawson relates the classic by Adolphe Adam in a modern version with poetic, often highly virtuoso images.
Bernd Klepnow | Sächsische Zeitung
Giselle remains a romantic ballet from the point of view of David Dawson. However, one thing characterizes his choreography, and may even elevate it above other “classical” views: the Englishman pays a lot of attention to characterizing the protagonists. Although these orient their personalities to the original, they make significant gains in format and contours. Dawson accomplishes this without a lot of irrelevant pantomimic fuss, but rather solely through the expression of dance.