Thursday, 15 February 2007

Giselle- Perfect Romantic Ballet(St. Valentine's Day special)

On the St. Valentines day this year I spent my evening in Kremlin Palace Theatre, Moscow. It is a magnificent theatre built with elegance . One really feels to be in a Palace being here and to top it all the ballet on the stage creates magical effects that go deep down in one's senses creating magical reality. I was amazed by my sudden transportation from the modern world to an unknown age of mystics and fairies. The magical effect was created by the ballet 'Giselle' - a ballet that is reffered as the perfect romantic ballet. The scenery created on the stage by lights and sounds took me to my desire to create a perfect romantic painting as I saw what I had always wanted to paint alive on the stage. Romance was in the air. Beautiful couples had come to see the ballet dressed in their best, girls holding flowers gifted on St. Valentine's Day by their boys. The ballet was so good that I wanted to know all about it and all I learnt about it I am sharing with you all-
The synopsis of the ballet Giselle

Act I - A rustic village
Giselle, a weak-hearted young girl who is adored by her native villagers, lives with her watchful mother, Berthe. Hilarion, the village gamekeeper, is desperately in love with Giselle. Prince Albrecht, a nobleman who is already engaged to a noblewoman named Bathilde, is bored and lonely with his everyday existence. Captivated by Giselle's frail beauty and innocence, Albrecht disguises himself as a peasant named Loys. After purchasing the cottage adjacent to Berthe's, he proceeds to shower Giselle with his affections.
Hilarion, filled with suspicion and jealousy, becomes enraged when Giselle falls madly in love with Albrecht and believes that they are engaged.
Berthe has a vision that her daughter will one day become a Wili, a jilted maiden who dies before her wedding night. The Wilis emerge between midnight and dawn to vengefully trap any man who enters their domain by forcing him to dance to his death.
Hilarion exposes Albrecht's disguise and proclaims that he is already betrothed to Bathilde. Overwhelmingly distraught and horrified, Giselle dies of a broken heart.

Act II - A forest clearing
Hilarion is discovered just before midnight keeping vigil by Giselle's tomb. As midnight approaches, the Wilis appear with their leader, Queen Myrta. This is the night Giselle is to be initiated as a Wili.
Albrecht, laden with feelings of guilt and remorse, visits Giselle's grave. He sees a vision of Giselle and follows it into the forest. At this point, Myrta discovers Hilarion in the forest and orders the Wilis to dance around him until he dies from exhaustion. She then discovers Albrecht and demands that he share the same fate as Hilarion but is unable to permeate the invisible bond of love that Giselle has for him.
At dawn, when the Wilis lose their power and must retreat to their dwelling place, Albrecht is saved and Giselle forgives him. Giselle returns with the Wilis and recognizes that now she will be one of them for the rest of time.

The ballet was conceived by the influential French poet, author, critic and possibly the greatest champion of the Romantic ballet, Théophile Gautier. Giselle was created to honor the ballerina Carlotta Grisi, whom Gautier not only admired for her dancing, but with whom he was in love. Gautier was inspired by a passage from Heinrich Heine's 1835 work, De l'Allemagne. He wrote to Heine thus:
"My dear Henri Heine,While leafing through your beautiful book, De l'Allemagne, a few weeks ago, I came across a charming passage (one has merely to open the volume at random). It was the passage in which you speak of sprits in white gowns with hems that are perpetually damp, fairies whose little satin feet mark the ceiling of the nuptial chamber, the snow-white Wilis who waltz pitilessly the whole night long, and wondrous apparitions encountered in the Hartz mountains and on the banks of the Ilse, glimpsed in a mist bathed by German moonlight - and I said out loud, "What a pretty ballet one could make of that!
Gautier turned to Jules-Henri Vernoy, Marquis de Saint-Georges to perfect the theatrical rendition of his tale. A dandy and a prolific writer, Saint-Georges had his first work published at age twenty. He eventually scripted 12 ballets and 80 operas, some in collaboration with Eugene Scribe. He had already penned La Gypsy and Le Diable amoureux (1840). Saint-Georges is probably solely responsible for the first act of Giselle and certainly shared the construction of the second act with Gautier. In three days Gautier and Saint-Georges finished the libretto that has remained unchanged, often referred to as the perfect Romantic ballet.

Giselle or Les Wilis was first performed at the Paris Opéra Monday June 28, 1841.The ballet was a success on all levels, gaining critical and public acclaim for the choreography, music, designs and the dancing of all. This made Giselle's Parisian debut in a full-length ballet a particular success. Perhaps even more of an endorsement of Giselle's success was the fact that a style of hat and a type of fabric were named after the ballet.
Giselle offered audiences an escape to a world of mystery, beauty, danger, and death, a vision that stirred the blood of poetic, as well as prosaic, imaginations. What secures its place as the apex of romantic ballet is that in place of the usual happy ending, in which virtue is rewarded, a tragic death followed by a ghostly resurrection is substituted.
Giselle was not the first ballet to show a peasant in love with a noblemen. There had already been Clari (1820) and Nathalie (1821). A girl was also abandoned by a nobleman in L'Orgie (1831). Although Albrecht is a duke or count or some such rank of nobility, the plot does not focus on his function as a ruler, but instead on his personal life.
It seems that Gautier supported the idea of Giselle dying from an actual wound derived from Albrecht's sword. In Petipa's Russia suicide was thought unsuitable. Therefore he settled for death by the effects of shock and sorrow on a weak heart. This device has stayed with most contemporary productions even though many healthy looking, latter day ballerinas have certainly not looked in danger of dying from a weak heart.
We know that Gautier got his idea for the wilis from Heine, but where do these mythical creatures come from? Meyer's Konverationslexikon defines Wiles or Wilis as female vampires, the spirits of betrothed girls who are jilted before their wedding night. According to Heine wilis came from a Slav legend of maidens who are engaged to be married but die before their wedding. They are unable to rest in their graves because they could not satisfy their passion for dancing when they were alive. They therefore gather on the highway at midnight to lure young men and dance them to their death. There is a Slave word 'vila' which means vampire. The plural is vile, and wilis is probably a Germanic pronunciation of that word as a 'w' in German is pronounced like a 'v'. (Puccini's first opera is based on the same legend, in Italian Le Villi.) In Serbia they were maidens cursed by God; in Bulgaria they were known as samovily, girls who died before they were baptized; and in Poland they are beautiful young girls floating in the air atoning for frivolous past lives.
Inspiration for the first act also came from Victor Hugo's poem, Les Fantômes. About a girl who dies after dancing all night in a ballroom. It includes the line "She loved dancing too much, and that is what killed her."
Preservation of ballet to this day comes through Russia, not France. Many of today's productions of Giselle rely on the revisions made by Petipa, whose version is better documented than the Paris original. Also in Russia the ballet was in continual production, as opposed to France where it was dropped for a number of years.
Although Giselle is a well known and fairly well preserved ballet, there is no documented "original version." Most of the surviving choreography for Giselle comes not from the original French production but from Petipa's St. Petersburg version. Therefore when staging a "traditional" rendition of the ballet, the person responsible must weigh their interpretation of the known historical facts with a sensitivity to the experience of the contemporary audience.
The first Russian performance came in St. Petersburg, in 1842, staged by Titus who relied solely on his memory of seeing the ballet in Paris. The Russian production must have varied tremendously.
It is a ballet one must watch especially the Romantics among us.


Blogger Crunchy Weta said...

What an amazing place and event to be at for Valentines (or any day for that matter!) My wife would be emerald with envy>

17/2/07 6:55 am  
Blogger Divine India said...

thanx for realising once again the forgotten romance ...

20/2/07 3:36 pm  
Blogger abhay k said...

Hi Glenn,
Thanks for your beautiful words...I didn't get your wife part?!


thank you for visiting's great to have you here!


23/2/07 12:56 pm  

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