Shed 6, Queens Wharf, Wellington

08/03/2008 - 12/03/2008

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

This darkly comic Giselle made an explosive impact on the London dance scene, astounding audiences and winning over critics with its originality and ambition. Transporting the action to the fictitious town of Ballyfeeny, where life is tough and unforgiving, Giselle by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre is an extraordinary and controversial interpretation of the classic romantic ballet.

The frustrated inhabitants of Ballyfeeny are seduced by the promise of happiness when line-dancing Bratslavian Albrecht comes to town. Most especially there is Giselle, who has the most to win – or lose.

This savagely funny, crude and feisty performance is narrated by Giselle’s father who sits atop a telephone pole observing the town’s goings-on – incest, betrayal, lust. Giselle combines low-rent humour, Irish folksongs and line-dancing to create an arresting narrative and a boldly visual, highly entertaining production.

Michael Keegan-Dolan, the creative powerhouse behind Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, is one of Ireland’s most talented and innovative choreographers. He has made his name by mercilessly modernising old stories while keeping true to their universal themes.

Brave and brilliant, Giselle is ultimately about redemption and the power of the human spirit.



Event Dates
8 Mar 8:00pm (Sat) Selling fast
9 Mar 8:00pm (Sun) Selling fast
10 Mar 8:00pm (Mon) Selling fast
11 Mar 8:00pm (Tue) Selling fast
12 Mar 8:00pm (Wed) Selling fast

Pricing (excl. service fees)
A $69.50
A Friend $64.50
B $59.50
B Friend $54.50

Duration: 75 mins, no interval

Venue: Shed 6

Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre
Writer and director
Michael Keegan-Dolan
Composer Philip Feeney
Designer Sophie Charalambous
Lighting designer Adam Silverman
Producer Felicity O'Brien
Michael M Dolan, Milos Galko, Khamlane Halsakda, Bill Lengfelder, Emmanuel Obeya, Neil Paris, Rachel Poirier, Angelo Smimmo, Vladislav Benito Soltys, Daphne Strothmann, Lorena Randi
Production managers Peter Jordan / Rob Furey
Stage manager Pippa Stroud
Carpenter Mick Kelly 

1hr 15 mins, no interval

Genius avant-garde he is not

Review by Ann Hunt 16th Mar 2008

[Note: Ann Hunt’s NZIAF dance reviews appear here because they were written for the Sunday Star Times which has chosen not to run them – indeed their review coverage of all performing arts appears to have ceased across the board. Shame on them – JS]]

"In Ballyfeeny there is little or no light." So quotes Giselle’s father from the top of a telegraph pole. This is so very true. Writer/director, Michael Keegan-Dolan ‘s absurdist Giselle is very dark indeed, in spite of some broad laughs along the way.

This up-dated version of the classical ballet scenario leaves little to the imagination. Characters chop mincemeat (and their fingers,) with lethal-looking butcher’s knives, urinate in rubbish bins and have sex in a number of odd places including a-top the aforementioned bin. In fact there are an awful lot of unpleasant characters having an awful lot of unpleasant sex all round. But the audience loved every minute of it, so there you go.

It is the story of a poor, asthmatic Irish girl, Giselle, who is tormented and abused by her handicapped, violent brother, Hilarion, and is the butt of village bullies. Raw and unrelentingly grim, the belly laughs do little to relieve the gloom. Reminiscent at times of Lars von Trier’s Dogville, this Giselle is more theatre with some dance in it, than dance-theatre as such. Only in the second half does that term have some relevance.

On a bare stage save for a telegraph pole (well lit by Adam Silverman), Giselle’s story is narrated by her father who has retreated to the top of the pole. We are shown her love for the two-timing Albrecht, here portrayed as a Slovakian bisexual line-dancing teacher, her subsequent betrayal and eventual death. She is resurrected as a wilis, the avenging spirits of young women betrayed by men, who seek vengeance on any who cross their path, between the hours of night and dawn.

The latter half of the play opens well on a Gothic mise en scene of trapdoors like open graves through which the dead arise. Disembodied hands throw handfuls of dust into the air which catch the light and appear as mist. Eerie music (by Philip Feeney) envelopes this netherworld, as ropes descend from the flies and the dancers fly and whirl above the stage. This excellent idea sadly became repetitive and predictable due to the lack of choreographic invention, although the final image of Giselle bouncing on a trampoline was amusingly memorable.

The appallingly pretentious and inadequate programme did not link roles to individual actors, so performers cannot be singled out. All however, carried their roles with conviction and skill, which made for excellent ensemble work.

These same programme notes inappropriately use the term genius in reference to Keegan-Dolan. This does him a terrible disservice, placing him in an elevated position to which he is not entitled. Avant-garde he may be. Genius avant-garde he is not.


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Why didn’t they write another story?

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 12th Mar 2008

Somehow the creaks and metallic groans of Shed 6 seemed appropriate for this performance? Not a friendly venue and not a friendly show.

I am always a bit suspicious of directors who vow to change perceptions and Michael Keegan-Dolan certainly was determined to upend expectations for his rendition of the well known story of Giselle. An assault in every way as the actors aggressively shouted at each other as the complexities of the setting, relationships and personalities were established.

Was the telephone pole a metaphor for communication? Or the lack of it? The dustbins to make us think of rubbish and reject? The balloons, white for purity and for the fragility of life and breath?  Explosive reactions tossed casually away and full of hot air?

Whatever, the village malarkey was complicated and over done and it was not until well into the work and when we finally got to some dancing that I started to feel that there was method in the madness!

Ballet plots are notoriously simple, opera stories abound with complexity and theatre drives its message home with words. It was hard to tell what genre we were in, but once the line dance dialogue got started there was no question that these actors/dancers had rhythm aplenty.

The key relationships were between the line dancing teacher Milos Galko (Albrecht), the mad brother of Michael Dolan (Hilarion) and Neil Paris as Paddy Dunn, the Butcher’s son and the desperately downtrodden Giselle of Rachel Poirier. I thought the straight/gay relationship angle a bit gratuitous but plausible given that we had been transported to Ballyfeen in irascible Ireland.

I wondered why they didn’t just write another story and give up on any achieving of any element of Giselle? Was it just for the name recognition to sell tickets and cajole the audience to believing they were going to see dancing?

But then we got to the best bit of the real ballet and it was the strongest part of this production as well. The Willis were dark, gothic, spirits of the underworld and of the realm behind our imaginings. The rope nooses spiralling from the ceiling allowed bodies to float eerily above and out of their graves.

I never entirely trusted this Albrecht? Why do we feel so for the real Giselle and her Prince? Here he seemed a two timing rat who deserved to lose.

The ending is genius and provides one of those theatre images that will never go away. This was most certainly a play with dancing – but then the final duet defied the nether world and broke my heart for Giselle, doomed and unhappy to the end – transcending any stylistic definition and most certainly using dance to brilliantly define the heartbreak and desolation of loving. 

Outstanding moments in a not altogether satisfying whole were also the glorious counter tenor of Angelo Smimmo, the implacable calm of narrator Bill Lengfelder, the viciousness of village survival of Lorena Randi and the simpering Mary of Vladislav Soltys.

The integration of the whole space was excellent, both on and off the stage were equally important places to be. The music by Philip Feeney provided the crescendos and relentlessness that the themes required.

Perfect Festival fare and another hard hitting choice that left us disquieted as we went out along a darkened wharf searching for humanity and happiness in our own existence and a hot drink to take the chill off our minds.

One gripe that is gathering momentum in an otherwise excellent Festival is the programmes! They do not give cast lists that can be related to the show?? Maybe I have just struck all the duds but it is starting to irk! We are seeing stunning performers and it is a challenge to credit these artists. Better luck with the next ten days!


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Fantastic and real performances bring dysfunctional yet endearing world to life

Review by Lyne Pringle 10th Mar 2008

How great to rub up against this ‘Irish’ Company with a multi-national cast – ‘rub’ being the operative word. I can see how anyone expecting a conventional take on Giselle would be rubbed up the wrong way by the decidedly bawdy and ‘in yer face’ first act antics.

Giselle was the first production in which Michael Keegan-Dolan combined text with movement, and the language is as rough as it gets: the integration of text and choreography is very strong. Images tumble so thick and fast in the first view minutes making us work to keep up – no settling back into our seats here.  

The contemporary Irish social milieux with its tough brooding violence is the bed that the story springs from as we cavort through a narrated sequence filling us in on the fact that Giselle and her half brother’s mother has hanged herself.

Incidentally the narrator is Giselle’s father high atop a telephone pole reneging all responsibility – one of many compelling images.

Nobody is nice to Giselle, played with fragile nuance by Daphne Strothmann, she is tossed about forlornly in a sea of persecution; forced to eat potatoes and pushed into a subterranean cage: similarities here to the films of Lars Von Triers, Dogville and Breaking the Waves in the plight of the heroine.

Attraction, deceit and betrayal are the key elements of the ballet and they are used as springboards in various scenes that milk the dramatic potential with outrageous lazzis that are nicely sewn into the narrative.

For example: Giselle treated like she is a work of origami as she receives a massage to relieve her asthma from brilliantly played Nurse Mary (Lorena Randi); copulation between Nurse Mary and the local butcher (Neil Paris) on top of a table following a finger licking suturing; the cast forced to lose their suits at gunpoint and race each other; Giselle’s mad brother taunting, manipulating, dribbling in her face and generally horsing around while buzzards caw.

Rather than Albrecht (Milos Galko) being a prince pretending to be a peasant, he’s a bisexual line dance teacher with charisma to burn.

Cue snappy line dancing sequences where the cast finally get to show they can dance as well as act and sing. Giselle in red dress with the teensiest flicker of joy attracts the gaze of the stranger in town who eventually makes a move on her, but unfortunately gets spotted by overly jealous Hilarion indulging in a spot of lewd ‘how’s yer father’ with the local butcher, Pat Dun amongst twirling rubbish bins. Out-rageous! Not a good move in this community. This sets up a nice juicy quartet riddled with emotional investment – Nurse Mary and the Butcher – Giselle and Albrecht -with Hilarion holding all the cards.

Asthmatic Giselle wheezes to a sad death as all is revealed in a series of brilliant overlapping filmic scenes at the end of Act One. This is a dark community in crisis. A man in a petticoat sings in haunting boy tenor tones as we learn that Giselle cannot be buried on consecrated ground.

So far so unpredictable then Act Two surprises yet again with its rampant tenderness.

There are some stunning effects here, which I won’t divulge, so as not to spoil the images but suffice to say there is a chorus of Willis who dance exquisitely and almost fly amongst us as the wonderful skill of these dancers is fully revealed.

The choreography is fantastic and such a contrast to the tone of the first act that the performance takes on incredible depth and texture.

So in this ocean of compassion and forgiveness Giselle protects Albrecht from certain death at the hands of the Willis.  They dance a soft aching love duet and melt into each other’s beings. This is dancing from the heart.  The composition (Philip Feeney) is brilliant throughout and here it swells into full-blown romance and I am totally sucked into this poignant conclusion.

Fantastic and real performances from all the company brings the dysfunctional yet endearing world of this play to life. The manifesto that Keegan-Dolan has on the Fabulous Beast website – "It is only possible to know another after one knows oneself. It is only possible to play another when one fully can be oneself." – is confirmed.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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