We wondered what it would be like to explore a reading of Giselle's libretto.
Pursuing this idea, we undertook three experiments: in the first, we filmed the dancers in close-up, speaking short excerpts of the text; for the the second, we recorded the full libretto (during lockdown) on Zoom with a cast of fifteen; and for the third, we invited composer Philip Jeck to experiment with the Zoom recordings to produce an audio drama, a kind of 'sound-ballet'.
It is this third experiment that is presented here. Given our constraints it is, necessarily, a work-in-progress; a strand of our research that we plan to develop further when circumstances allow.
We hope you enjoy it.
The libretto of Giselle by Vernoy de Saint Georges and Théophile Gautier is rich in poetic imagery that truly comes alive in Cyril Beaumont's translation in The Ballet Called Giselle.
The text, a mixture of reported speech, direct speech and action invites a reader to move around the space of Giselle. It's a bit like a multi-camera script, inviting us to imagine close-ups of a system of signs predicting Giselle's journey to the grave: a bird slain, a gold chain for a special girl, and a hunting party. Then there's the vivid description of a wild bacchanal in Act 2 that ends in Hilarion's death.
The narrative of the ballet conforms to the Classical unities of drama, taking place over 24 hours, beginning at dawn with the vine dressers, moving to midnight and the world of the dead, and then ending with Giselle sinking into the grave as the sun rises.
The libretto also describes a space conditioned by another kind of temporality, one driven by emotional experiences and drives.
In this project we have found ourselves moving between times: from Classical Antiquity to 1840 to 2020, sometimes we have felt what the Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli describes as a 'disintegration of our notion of time' (Carlo Rovelli, 'The Order of Time', p12 )
In our view Rovelli's evocative image is a fitting description for Philip's first treatment of our experimental recording of the libretto.
Reading on Zoom were: Frida Amponsah: Lea Anderson: Makiko Aoyama: Nicholas Bone: Chloe Challis: Seke Chimutengwende: Grant Cieciura: Laila Diallo: Minty Donald:Tamar Draper: Ian Hornsby: Jason Keenan-Smith: KJ Lawson-Mortimer: Alex Morrison: Simon Vincenzi: Marisa Zanotti
1 Beaumont, Cyril (1944) The Ballet Called Giselle2 Rovelli, Carlo (2019 -04 -04) The Order of Time