ballet · Dance

Ballet classics – Giselle

Giselle is a story about the true power of love, and I can’t help but be wrapped up in it!

Originally performed in 1842, Giselle was written in the romantic era of ballet (think long flowing tulle skirts and picture perfect postcard poses) It’s about a peasant girl Giselle, who lives a simple and happy life with her mother. Giselle loves to dance, but her mother always worries about her and is overprotective, as she has a weak heart. 

During festivities for Harvest, a young nobleman, Duke Albrecht, visits the village and falls madly in love with Giselle, even though he is already betrothed to another, Bathilde. With help from his squire, he disguises himself as a peasant boy by the name of Loys, and woos Giselle, who falls in love with him.

Giselle has another admirer in the village, Hilarion, who goes to Giselle to warn her Loys cannot be trusted, and not to get involved with him, but she does not listen. At the festivities, there is lots of dancing, and Giselle and Loys dance together. Meanwhile Hilarion has discovered the truth about Loys, and outs his secret in front of everyone. Poor Giselle is devastated at being deceived by her lover, flies into a crazed episode “the mad scene” completely heartbroken, she starts to dance irratically, which proves too much for her fragile heart, and she passes away in Albrecht’s arms, who then flees the village in guilt.

Hilarion visits Giselle’s grave, but is scared away by The Wilis, a group of maiden spirits who were betrayed by their lovers. Their leader Myrtha, is particularly scornful, and together they seek out men and make them dance until they die of exhaustion as their revenge. Myrtha summons Giselle from her grave, just as Albrecht comes to pay his respects. He begs Giselle for forgiveness, and because her love for him is so strong, she accepts, then disappears, Albrecht following behind.

Meanwhile The Wilis have found Hilarion, made him dance until exhaustion, then drowned him in a lake. They then turn on Albrecht. He. He and Giselle beg Myrtha for him to be spared, but she does not listen, and makes him dance until dawn. However, the power of Giselle’s love is so strong, it breaks the Wilis spell, and Albrecht lives. At sunrise, the wilis return to their graves, but Giselle’s love has also broken their hold over her. She  returns to her grave and can rest in peace.

The choreography plays a big part in this ballet, particularly for The Wilis. The endless courus, that glide so effortlessly across the floor, as though they were hovering, the lightness and height in the jetes, combined with the floating tulle skirts, and continuous flow of the arms in ports de bras, actually transform them into ghosts right before your eyes!

Such a beautiful story, one that is still relevant today. It offers hope,that even though we can be hurt, lied to, betrayed and heartbroken, love really is the most powerful thing. It will mend, it will repair, it will teach us to trust again. And there’s no better story than that!
Alicia 💗

ballet · Dance

Ballet Classics – Swan Lake

This is a new series of blogs about the great ballet classic stories, that we may or may not be familiar with. You may have seen one of them, you may have seen them all, so this series will either reignite your passion for your favourite, or enlighten you  with a new story.

How could I begin without starting with Swan Lake. It is my, and I’m sure, many of yours, favourite ballet. It is a tale of enchantment, love, perseverance, deceit and betrayal. The main character, Odette has been put under a curse by the evil Rothbart. By day she is forced to live as a swan, with others who suffer the same fate, only transforming to her human form at night. The only way to break the spell is for a man to declare eternal love for her. Enter Primce Seigfreid. He discovers Odette on a hunting trip and completely captivated by her, falls in love. He slowly wins the love of Odette, and invites her to a ball at the palace. Rothbart is furious that his spell might be broken, so sends his daughter Odile, to the ball. She entices and tricks poor Siegfried into him thinking she is Odette, and he declares his love for her. At this, Odette’s heart is broken. Unable to cope with living as a swan forever, she takes her own life, as does Prince Siegfried, who is distraught at the realisation of what has happened. Don’t worry though, true love conquers all, all they are reunited in death for eternity.

I’m not entirely sure what makes Swan Lake such a hit. I think it’s a real combination of things coming together to create a masterpiece that even non ballet lovers have taken to their hearts. The music, written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky,  is wonderful at setting the tone for each event. The costumes for the swans encapsulate the elegance, the signature moves and positions which are immediately recognisable, and the wonderful choreography and perfect synchronicity of the corps de ballet, which have a huge role in telling the story, and wouldn’t be the same without them. 

My favourite part about Swan Lake, which has always inspired me, is that the roles of Odette and Odile, are played by the same ballerina. Each role is strenuous enough that they could be separate roles, so the prima ballerina must have enough strength and stamina to be able to perform both. It’s the most physically demanding of all the balllets. Not only must the ballerina have the technical ability, she must be the ultimate actress. She must be able to portray Odette/Odile in their own right. Facial expressions, subtle changes in posture, demeanour. If you’ve ever seen Swan Lake, it’s the ballerina is almost unrecognisable from when she starts as the white swan, the epitome of purity, delicate, shy, elusive, unassuming and gentile, to when she enters as the black swan, bold and brash, sly, seductive and confident. They are polar opposites, and for the same ballerina to use all her skills and allow her to transform, is a true spectacle and what contributes to the magic.

I cannot write this blog without talking about ‘the dying swan’ scene. The music is haunting. It was created for the great Anna pavlova. If you haven’t seen her perform it, I urge you to look it up. Yes, you can tell how much ballet technique has progressed, but the feeling she puts into it is like no other. She really becomes the dying swan. You can feel her pain and heartache. You can feel her beginning to get tired and let go, then the frantic last moments of resistance before she finally gives in and succumbs to death. She is mesmerising.

Ultimately, I think it’s the love at the heart of the story that captivates us. Two peaople coming together, so beautifully, only to be torn apart. We love when love prevails, even if that has to be in death. Love knows no bounds, and Odette and Seigreid remind us of that.

Be sure to keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook pages, where I’ll be posting some videos and photos of the iconic steps and poses!
Alicia 💗