Dada Masilo's Giselle

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Music composition: Philip Miller
With additional support from SAMRO FOUNDATION

Drawings: William Kentridge
Lighting: Suzette le Sueur

This is Masilo’s fourth reinterpretation of a great classic to make its SA debut at the National Arts Festival: Romeo and Juliet (2008, Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance), Carmen (2009) and Swan Lake (2010).

The (traditional) ballet is about a peasant girl named Giselle, who dies of a broken heart after discovering that her lover is betrothed to another. The Wilis, a group of supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but Giselle’s love frees him from their grasp.

In Masilo’s version Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, is a Sangoma. The Wilis are spirits/ancestors who literally call Giselle to join them. They are not a group of sweet, sad girls, but rather something more terrifying…. They have been had. They are heartbroken. And they want revenge. Their spirits can only be free if they bring about the deaths of those who wronged them. Giselle does not forgive. After her revenge, she is released from the mortal world and she too can be free.

Masilo says, “It is a big challenge to revise yet another classic without repeating myself. I aim to create a work that is not about forgiveness, but about deceit, betrayal, anger and heartbreak. I strive to create new movement vocabulary and to push myself in terms of story telling. In the traditional ballet, there is a clear narrative, but the characters are rather two-dimensional. The emphasis is on the steps, rather than on the unique psychologies of the protagonists: Albrecht and Hilarion seem just there to support the female lead and (in some versions) Giselle’s mad scene relies mainly on messy hair…. I want to go much deeper and most importantly, to create Wilis that are really vicious.”

Co-commissioned by The Joyce Theater (New York), Hopkins Center (Dartmouth College, New Hampshire), La Biennale de la Danse de Lyon 2018 and Sadler’s Wells (London)


Poster credit: Photo by Stella Olivier: workshop for William Kentridge’s ‘More Sweetly Play the Dance’.
Other photos: Rob Mills




  1. chuchutg 11 April 2017 at 2:34 pm

    I really cant wait to see this Company in action. #ProudlyJoburgPeople #ProudlySouthAfricans #ProudArtSlaves

  2. Joanne.oertel 2 July 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I was riveted throughout the play. Outstanding!

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