Ballet Stars
English National Ballet in Akram Khan's "Giselle." Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

This week (Feb 28-Mar. 2), English National Ballet brings Akram Khan's widely acclaimed Giselle to Chicago's Harris Theater, the company's first U.S. appearance in 30 years. Commissioned by ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo, Khan, whose work combines contemporary dance and Indian kathak, takes a revisionist approach to the classic story, replacing peasants and aristocrats with migrant factory workers and wealthy landlords. The ballet's look and sound have also been reinterpreted, with music by Vincenzo Lamagna (adapted from Adolphe Adam's original score), sets and costumes by Academy Award-winner Tim Yip and lighting design by Tony-award winner Mark Henderson.

Pointe spoke with Rojo to learn more about why she wanted to modernize one of ballet's best-loved classics—and why the risk was worth it.

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Ballet Stars
Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek's Bye. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy New York City Center.

Sylvie Guillem once said, “I have a lucky physique." Lucky is an understatement; my adjective of choice would be “perfect." As the Paris Opéra Ballet's youngest ever étoile, Guillem effaced previous technical standards with one whack of her leg in William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated, which he choreographed for her and fellow POB étoile Laurent Hilaire in 1987. Nearly three decades later, we could call the work a classic, but my awe renews with each viewing. There's plenty of stunning film footage of the two in the piece, but I like this clip for its close-ups. From a distance, the ease with which Guillem raises her legs to her ears almost seems like apathy. But here, as the camera zooms in on her kohl-rimmed eyes and silky smirks, we can see her intensity burning through. Guillem's precision is both steely and lyrical, her connection with Hilaire both cool and sensual—her command in the role still unparalleled.

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