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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. She succeeds, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ill Girl: Giselle, with hints of a Soap Opera Disease thrown in (she has a weak heart, but this is never elaborated upon).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Bathilde's arrival kicks off all the crap that will lead to poor Giselle's death.
  • What an Idiot!: 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.


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