Thursday, February 9, 2012

Does love conquer all? A look at love through Giselle

By Katie Brown, Sales Associate

Believe it or not, Giselle is one of the most popular ballets among the dance community. Young dancers all around the country take the time to learn and master variations from Giselle for various competitions and auditions.

And guess what? You already know the story! Giselle is a love story with themes you’ve seen through other mediums. In fact, we know most of the plots of famous ballets because of movies, TV, and Disney. For instance, we all know the story of The Nutcracker from watching cartoon TV parodies as children. We know the story of Swan Lake due to the recent popular movie Black Swan. And thanks to Disney, we know the beautiful story of Sleeping Beauty. But, what about the other story ballets? Where did we hear the story of Giselle? The only way to know that is to hear the full story.

Giselle is the story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness. It is truly a story that raises the question “does love conquer all?”

Giselle is a young, energetic girl who loves to dance. She lives with her mother in a small village, where it is not safe at night, especially in the woods. It is believed that mystical beings called the Wilis live in the woods. The Wilis are women once deceived by their lovers, who then died of despair and were left for the rest of eternity dancing in the woods to nurse their aching hearts.

All of the boys and girls in the village are warned about the Wilis, who dislike all men and force them to dance to death if caught in the woods. Girls who love to dance, like Giselle, are more desirable to young men and are therefore more likely to have their hearts broken and end up as Wilis. Giselle’s mother does not want to lose her daughter to a broken heart, so she constantly warns Giselle to be careful.

In Act One, Giselle, our carefree and loving protagonist, falls in love with a man she believes is named Loys; however his real name is Albrecht and he is a prince. Albrecht is engaged to a princess, but ends up falling in love with Giselle at first sight. In order to see Giselle and keep his engagement a secret, he hides his true identity and meets with Giselle in disguise.

Giselle and Loys, Albrecht in disguise, spend their days together in the village. They laugh, socialize and dance. Despite all of the fun and happiness, trouble lurks in the shadows. Hilarion, a young boy and Giselle’s friend, discovers Albrecht’s secret and is distraught by the deception and lies he leads Giselle to believe. Hilarion plans to uncover the truth. He brings Albrecht’s royal clothes and sword to the center of the Village, and there Hilarion exposes Albrecht’s secret, reveling his real engagement and betrayal to Giselle.

Giselle is shocked and goes into a state of despair and hopelessness. She goes around pulling on her hair and making mad gestures to everyone standing by. Unable to live with the truth any longer, Giselle dies of hopelessness and a broken heart.

Act Two takes the audience to the forest, where Giselle’s grave lies. Her grave is simple, with a cross on top. She has become one of the Wilis and is summoned by Myrta, the Queen of the Wilis to spend her time following Myrta’s commands, dancing, and aching from losing her one true love.

One night, Albrecht goes into the forest to bring lilies to Giselle’s grave. When he looks up, all the Wilis are around him, but he only recognizes one of the Wilis, Giselle.

Giselle takes pity on the guilt-ridden, depressed Albrecht and dances with him. Meanwhile, the other Wilis find and capture Hilarion, who was also in the woods looking for Giselle’s grave. They force him to dance until he dies of exhaustion.

Once they finish dancing, Myrta and the Wilis notice Albrecht is still present. Giselle tells Albrecht to seek refuge on her grave and he hides, clutching to the cross for his life. But because Giselle is a Wilis, she is forced to obey Myrta’s commands. She then brings Albrecht away from her grave and dances with him.

Myrta and the other Wilis are in awe of the beautiful, graceful dancing between Albrecht and Giselle. The two dance until the sun begins to rise. Once the first glimmer of light is clear over the horizon, the Wilis fade into the darkness and return to their graves. Albrecht, weak from dancing, begs Giselle to stay.

Regardless of the sunlight, Giselle stays with Albrecht until the very last moment. When she realizes she has saved him from death of exhaustion, she returns to her grave and Albrecht is left in the forest, weeping for his loss.

Giselle found it in her heart to forgive Albrecht when she took pity on him. She realized that despite all the pain he caused her, she loved him unconditionally.

So riddle me this, does Giselle’s actions prove the common ideal that love conquers all? Now that you know the plot, it’s time to decide for yourself.

American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Giselle plays from March 22-25 on the Auditorium Theatre stage.

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