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Theatre / Giselle

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Giselle is a ballet created by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, composed by Adolphe Adam and first shown in 1841. It is said to have been inspired by a poem, and the famous wilis in the second act are taken from Slavic Mythology, where they are ruthless virgins, jilted before or on their wedding day, who vengefully dance men to death. The ballet is well-known throughout the world and is considered to be one of the best productions a troupe can perform. It is said that while Swan Lake is the best ballet in terms of movement, Giselle is said to be the best ballet in terms of acting, with pantomime and expression telling the story of the ballet as well as the choreography.

The ballet begins happily on the day of a peasant festival, with a disguised nobleman (often a prince or a duke) named Albrecht, who has disguised himself as the peasant Loys. It is in this disguise that he courts the shy and naive Giselle, who falls in love with him while being wholly unaware of Albrecht's true self. After Giselle picks petals in a "He loves me, he loves me not" scenario (and after Albrecht plucks an extra petal while Giselle isn't looking so the flower will produce a "He loves me" answer), the two dance, only to be interrupted by Hilarion, a hunter who is in love with Giselle. Hilarion jealously warns Giselle against trusting strangers and proclaims his love for Giselle, only to be gently refused, and storm away. Giselle and Albrecht are later stopped by Giselle's overprotective mother, Berthe. She warns Giselle of being jilted, for a girl who dies before her wedding night is turned into a wili under control of Queen Myrtha and forever condemned to dance men to death. She herds Giselle back into their home and shoos Albrecht away.

Shortly after, a party of hunters enters the scene; among them are the countess (or princess) Bathilde and her father. They request shelter for Bathilde and refreshments from Berthe and Giselle. Giselle is enthralled by the beautiful noblewoman and her rich clothing, and dances for her, telling Bathilde of her happy engagement with "Loys", who is nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, Bathilde gifts Giselle with her precious necklace before adjourning to rest in the cabin. The peasants return and dance some more and are quickly rejoined by Giselle and Albrecht. Just as Giselle is about to show Albrecht the necklace (or in some versions, tell him about Bathilde), Hilarion appears on the scene and angrily produces Albrecht's sword, then summons the hunting party with the horn left at Giselle's cabin. Albrecht quickly drops the peasant act when confronted by Bathilde, who happens to be his fiancée, and Giselle goes mad and dies tragically upon learning the truth.

The second act consists of Giselle, now one of the wilis, and her attempts to save the grieving Prince Albrecht from Queen Myrtha and her wilis, who successfully kill Hilarion when he goes to pay his respects. Giselle saves Albrecht, but must depart to the afterlife.

Giselle provides examples of:

  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Thoroughly averted. While Bathilde is snobbish in some versions of the ballet, she treats Giselle with kindness, and presents her with a necklace upon hearing of her engagement. Her father is very friendly and welcoming as well. Albrecht is a selfish player at first, but he redeems himself in the second act, since he genuinely regrets what happened.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": A lot of the Soviet Albrechts aren't convincing. Averted with Rudolf Nureyev's interpretation of the character, who one review went so far as to declare tons more convincing than others in the role.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Giselle saves the prince, who has fallen in love with her, but must depart forever. At least she now rests in peace and Albrecht will live on.
  • But Now I Must Go: The ending has Giselle freed from becoming a wili, but her soul departs from Albrecht, leaving him alive but alone.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Hilarion warns Giselle away from Albrecht and is instinctively mistrustful of him.
  • Cue the Sun: The sunrise frees Albrecht from the ghostly wilis and in some cases, Giselle as well.
  • Death by Despair: Poor Giselle dies of a broken heart when she discovers that Albrecht is engaged to another. Some productions try to justify this by having her mother mime caution to her daughter early on, suggesting that she already has a weak heart.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Giselle, with hints of a Soap Opera Disease thrown in (she has a weak heart, but this is never elaborated upon).
  • Depending on the Writer: Is Hilarion a Dogged Nice Guy, a vengeful jerk out to spite Albrecht and actively hurt Giselle, or just a Well-Intentioned Extremist whose Batman Gambit to get Albrecht and Giselle together winds up becoming a gambit Gone Horribly Wrong?
  • Does Not Like Men: The wilis, who dance with any man unfortunate enough to come across them to death.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: In the more sympathetic portrayals of Hilarion, he's characterized as good at heart, and in love with Giselle, and attempts to get her together with the prince he realizes Giselles lack of interest in anyone else.
  • Driven to Suicide: In an early version of the ballet, Giselle died by stabbing herself with Albrecht's sword. This is kept in some later productions, but it's made clear that the sword didn't kill her as she either bleeds out or dies of her weak heart. Regardless, she's buried in unhallowed ground.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Albrecht redeems himself and survives until dawn, which frees Giselle - and even then it's a Bittersweet Ending.
  • Ethereal White Dress: The wilis, ghostly scorned women who dance men to death at night, are depicted in white dresses.
  • The Fair Folk: The wilis, who are beautiful, ethereal women who murder any man they meet.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Giselle runs mad and dies upon learning that Albrecht is not only a noble, but engaged.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Myrtha, queen of the wilis, is more than happy to attempt to force Giselle to dance her prince to death.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: If the ballet portrays Hilarion more sympathetically, his attempt to get Albrecht and Giselle together backfires spectacularly and results in Giselle dying of a broken heart. And even more so: the wilis make sure he gets his dose of karma.
  • Hero Antagonist: Where Hilarion is between more heroic or more antagonistic, varies between productions, but he's always more sympathetic than the wilis regardless.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Even as a wili, Giselle's kindness prevents her from taking revenge on Albrecht and ends up saving them both.
  • The Ingenue: Giselle is a sweet, pure-hearted, innocent young girl who loves dancing and her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she's the heroine of a tragedy.
  • Karmic Death: So Hilarion's intervention revealed the whole King Incognito deal and caused Giselle to go insane, die, and become a wili upon her death? When he goes to mourn Giselle, the other wilis subject him to this via forcing him to dance until he's almost dead of exhaustion, then drowning him in the lake.
  • Kill It with Water: How the wilis finish Hilarion off after dancing him to exhaustion: they throw him in the lake and drown him.
  • King Incognito: Albrecht dresses up as a peasant in order to hide his true status,
  • Light Is Not Good: The wilis, who are beautiful young women that dress in white and murder men every night.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Albrecht, upon watching Giselle's insanity and subsequent death, has a Jerkass Realization too late and later goes to Giselle's grave in order to mourn her.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Hilarion reveals Albrecht's true identity to Giselle, hoping that this will help him win her heart. Instead she goes insane and dies.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The wilis only appear at night, and they have an aversion to crucifixes.
  • The Ophelia: Giselle goes mad upon realizing Albrecht's true identity (and engagement), and then passes away.
  • The Power of Love: Invoked by Giselle as she attempts to save Albrecht from Myrtha and the other wilis. It works. In some versions, this wounds Myrtha.
  • Race Lift: Creole Giselle, a 1984 ballet commissioned for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. It includes a Setting Update to 1840's Louisiana, a few name changes (Albrecht to Albert), and only slight variations in the choreography. It has since been performed in its own right.
  • Redemption Equals Death:
    • Averted. Albrecht doesn't have to die to redeem himself for Giselle's death.
    • Played straight with Hilarion. He's intercepted by the wilis as he pays his last respects to Giselle... and the pack kills him just before Giselle and Albrecht show up.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Albrecht is the nobleman rich suitor for Giselle, while Hilarion is the game-hunting poor suitor.
  • Sadistic Choice: Myrtha orders Giselle to dance Albrecht to death, or she will. Giselle decides to Take a Third Option and dances slowly enough for Albrecht to keep up and reviving him when he's exhausted and near death.
  • Shrinking Violet: Giselle is terribly shy, at least around people she doesn't know very well.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Hilarion tends to have shabby clothes and hair to contrast Albrecht's noble upbringing and clean-kept gaudy outfits.
  • Spanner in the Works: Hilarion, who reveals Albrecht's true identity, inadvertently causing Giselle's death.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In-Universe, this is what Hilarion is thinking in some versions when he summons Albrecht's hunting party with the hopes that the resulting news will really lead Giselle to make up her mind (she thinks Albrecht is a peasant from a nearby village, and Hilarion thinks revealing his secret will let her know she's about to marry into nobility). Turns out, he's even more of an idiot than he thought she was, and things end in Karmic Death for him.
  • Unrequited Tragic Maiden: Giselle is a beautiful young girl who falls in love with a handsome prince... who's already engaged and has no interest in a genuine romance with her. He does fall in love with her after she saves his life... but by then, Giselle must depart for the afterlife.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Bathilde's arrival kicks off all the crap that will lead to poor Giselle's death.

  • Woman Scorned: The wilis, especially Myrtha, who were jilted before their weddings and died, and now take their revenge on any unfortunate man who crosses their path.