Theatre Thursdays: Giselle

A few weekends ago I had the chance to see the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Giselle, and, before I say anything else, let me say that it was beautifully done, from the dancing to the costumes to the music from the orchestra.  I never have any complaints on those fronts as far as the PBT is concerned.

But I would like to address a few things about the ballet that left me wanting. First of all, although the part of Giselle is apparently a prized role in the ballet community, I don’t think that the character of Giselle is particularly strong.

The story starts out with young Giselle, being wooed by and subsequently falling in love with a nobleman disguised as a peasant. When his farce is revealed, she discovers that he is betrothed to a noble lady and that their love can never be, and subsequently dies of anguish. Following her death, she becomes a Wili—a sort of vengeful spirit formed whenever a virgin dies with her love unrequited. When her former lover ventures into the woods to visit her grave, he is set upon by the Wilis and tormented, but Giselle intercedes, and pleads for his life. He is saved and goes free, and Giselle, redeemed, does not become a Wili but is able to rest in peace.

What I got out of this is that the nobleman, rather than seeing the error of his ways or being punished for causing the death of poor Giselle, gets to get away scot-free, despite literally destroying Giselle’s life. In short, I thought the ending was dumb, and I’d rather have seen the nobleman dance himself to death (because that’s how Wilis kill you, by forcing you to dance until you drop) than get away unharmed.

My other critique of this particular embodiment of the show is this: I wish that they had done something more creative with the Wilis’ costumes.  When they first appeared on the stage they were wearing these really cool sheer veils that covered their entire bodies, and so their movements were really ethereal and mysterious, both like spurned brides and ghosts all at once. But following that, they discarded the veils and simply had on a basic sort of fancy white ballet dress on for most of the show.  The Wilis had the potential to be really creepy and awesome – I mean, female revenge spirits that dance you to death, come on – but the music they dance to is really sweet and peppy, and I’d have liked some blood stains or something that took the virginal purity of the plain white dresses and made it a little more sinister.  They can’t mess with the score or the choreography, but they could have been a little more adventurous with the costuming.

All in all it was an enjoyable experience, and like I said, the dancing was tremendous, but the story was forgettable and annoying.

4 thoughts on “Theatre Thursdays: Giselle

  1. I find it interesting your article summed up the performance itself in a small paragraph. Not a single word about Julia Erickson or anyone else.

    • I mean, I saw the Saturday night performance, so I saw Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silva as Giselle and her lover, and Elysa Hotchkiss as Myrtha. Erickson wasn’t even in the corps that night. And although I love to watch ballet, I’m not an expert on it – I couldn’t tell you whether or not ‘dancer x’s grand jetes left much to be desired’ or anything like that. I just know that, like I said, PBT always delivers a tremendous show.
      I focused on the story because that’s where the potential feminist critique lies, and the costumes because as both a cosplayer and a former costumes mistress for different theatrical groups I know how they can affect the story for better or worse.

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