A horrifying tale for Halloween!
Giselle is a happy dancing peasant girl. Nothing in the first half of her story will prepare you for what happens in the second half! Ballerinas consider the role of Giselle to be the most challenging of all the major ballets, because Giselle goes through such a dramatic change.
The first act of the ballet is pretty interesting. There is a love triangle, with a creepy peasant guy named Hilarion, who Giselle spurns because, well, he’s creepy and his name is Hilarion.
Anyway, Giselle falls deeply in love with a handsome mysterious stranger. And the two new lovers do much happy dancing together. Then a royal entourage passes through Giselle’s little village. Giselle and her mama offer them hospitality, and Giselle gets to meet the royal lady who is engaged to marry the Count.
Then, as so often happens in love triangles, the story starts to turn sinister. Creepy Hilarion discovers an unpleasant secret about the handsome stranger. Breaking into the stranger’s cabin, Hilarion finds a sword– a royal sword! The handsome stranger– he is actually the Count! This is a secret that’s too good to keep, so Hilarion makes sure that Giselle finds this sword as well.
And so Giselle discovers that the handsome stranger that she fell in love with is engaged to marry another woman. She goes mad, running through the village with her lover’s sword, in an erratic wild dance that is probably the most disturbing part of the entire ballet.
The happy peasant girl completely vanishes, what’s left is a raving madwoman. Her grief has robbed her of her senses. She waves the sword around wildly, and suddenly gripped in a fit of passion, stabs herself to death.
This was in 1841. 119 years later, Alfred Hitchcock would be called a genius for killing off Janet Leigh in the early scenes of his movie Psycho.
But never mind about that. It is time for the curtain to rise on act two.
Giselle stands in front of her grave.
She is a ghost. Sort of.
She meets a ghostly queen. The Queen of the Wilis. A Wili is an evil female spirit. In life, they were young women who died before their wedding night. They dress in full white gowns like brides, with tiny wings on their backs and a wreath of white flowers in their hair. They kill people, usually men, but it doesn’t really matter to them. They were betrayed in life and they take revenge in the afterlife.
It is a Wili’s job to linger at the shores of a lake, waiting for a weary traveler to pass by. They surround him and they dance him to death, leaving him to drown at the bottom of the lake.
Giselle is a ghost. But she’s not just any kind of ghost. She wears a full white gown like a bride, and tiny wings on her back, and a wreath of white flowers in her hair.
And she has a job, and she’s expected to do it, for the rest of eternity.
A weary traveler is walking down the road. A creepy peasant guy with a goofy name. Yes, it’s Hilarion. Giselle watches as a horde of the Wilis surround him and destroy him.
There is a kind of ghastly justice to this, and personally I can’t feel anything other than enjoyment to see creepy old Hilarion get what’s coming to him. But then, what’s this? Another traveler on the road appears.
The Count has come to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave.
There is a dawning realization here. Why would the Count think twice about a peasant he had a little fling with? Why isn’t he back in his castle, or off chasing another girl?
There is only one answer of course, and it’s true love. It’s too bad his fate is sealed. And so of course, is Giselle’s. She has a job to do. She has been betrayed, and it is her job to take revenge. Now and forever.
The Wilis then swarm around the Count, ready for another kill. Giselle should be the one to deliver the killing blow.
But she refuses. Giselle defends the Count and forgives him.
Her love transcends all, and triumphs over fate. The Count escapes the Wilis with his life. Giselle escapes them too. She melts away, away to wherever it is the dead go off to.