Akram Khan is, by all accounts, one of the greatest dancer-choreographers alive. His movements - which masterfully blend kathak with contemporary dance - are riveting, especially when he's the one executing them.
There's just one thing. Well, actually, more than one. He's not great with words (the texts he wrote for his duo with Juliette Binoche and for his autobiographical "Desh" were banal). And his musical tastes are pretty basic, as he demonstrates with his revisiting of the ballet "Giselle" with English National Ballet.
There's been a lot of expectation around Akram's first full-length ballet - and he lives up to it on the whole. The choreography is gripping to watch and an unquestionable breath of fresh air. And he has powerful stars to perform it. Tamara Rojo is supremely moving in the role of the spurned working class girl. Her acting and artistry are, as usual, at a peak, and the technique is, well, not bad either - for someone whose day job is running English National Ballet. There's also a Cuban-Canadian revelation playing Hilarion: his name is Cesar Corrales. A star is born.
But the music - oh, the music. Akram has basically commissioned the Italian composer Vincenzo Lamagna to take short segments of the original Giselle score -- "sometimes we are talking about only four bars," admits Lamagna in the program -- and create new music around it. The result is painfully repetitious. I realize that it's supposed to send you into some kind of trance. But all I heard were the same four notes played over and over again, in industrial-electronic arrangements that involved deafening bass hums, foghorn-like noises, crackling and clanging.
The reason why classical ballets are so beautiful is that they have extraordinary composers creating dramatic music for them. You feel for the protagonists because Tchaikovsky or Adolphe Adam (the composer of Giselle) or whoever makes your heart beat faster with sweeping bars of lyrical music. All of that is sorely lacking in Akram's "Giselle." Maybe next time he'll seek the advice of a more seasoned ear.