Editor’s Note: The following is an adapted synopsis to Giselle, based on Kaitlyn’s first experience with the ballet when it was performed by the Joffrey Ballet last month. Their version is “lovingly ripped and heavily edited” directly from Joffrey’s program notes, and imagines what might have happened if the 1841 ballet were written today. It’s called, “Giselle, 2.0.”
Act I is set in the Rhineland of the Middle Ages, on the day of the grape harvest festival. When the curtain rises, the cottage of Giselle and her mother Berthe is seen on one side, while opposite is the cottage of Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a nobleman whom the villagers believe is a peasant named Loys. Albrecht comes to the village in disguise before his marriage to Bathilde, the daughter of the Prince of Courland. Against the advice of his squire Wilfrid, Albrecht flirts with Giselle, who falls completely in love with him is like, “OK, you’re cute I guess, LET’S DANCE!”
Hilarion, a gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle and warns her against trusting this other suitor, but she refuses to listen says “HILARION, LEAVE ME ALONE. How many times do I have to tell you I’M CLEARLY NOT INTERESTED.” Hilarion, disappointed, slumps away. Albrecht and Giselle dance, and she plucks the petals from a daisy to divine his sincerity. The couple is interrupted by Giselle’s mother, who, worried about her daughter’s fragile health the fact that “Loys” is so clearly Albrecht BECAUSE HE LIVES RIGHT ACROSS THE STAGE. Aside: WHAT ARE THE RULES OF THIS WORLD? These people see each other all the time right? How does he manage to fool this entire village?
…and ushers the girl into the cottage. Horns are heard in the distance and Albrecht retreats from the scene. Giselle’s mom is like, “See Giselle, I told you!” Ugh, teenage love.
A hunting party enters and refreshments are served. Among the hunters are Bathilde and her father. Giselle is entranced by the nobility and receives a necklace from Bathilde. When the party departs, Albrecht reappears with the grape harvesters. A celebration begins. Giselle and the harvesters dance, but the merriment is brought to a halt by Hilarion who, having investigated Albrecht’s cottage, now brandishes the nobleman’s horn and sword. Hilarion sounds the horn and the hunting party returns. When Giselle learns the truth of Albrecht’s deception, madness overwhelms her fragile heart and she dies she’s pissed.
“What the hell, Hilarion?” says Giselle. “I ask you to leave me alone and instead you take it upon yourself to trespass in this dude’s home to try to win my affection? Has this ever worked for you before?” Also, what the hell, Albrecht? You already have this gorgeous woman who has agreed to marry you, and you’re messing around with the peasants? Bathilde is like, *eye roll*, says “Let’s go home babe,” and smacks the rump of a strapping young peasant man on the way out.
At this point, the guilt is really weighing on Albrecht. While tempted to just go home with his powerful and equally scandalous soon to be wife, he is also feeling pretty scuzzy about what his future holds. Not only will he be sickeningly wealthy, he has confirmed that he can indeed mess around with the peasants, totally free of consequences beyond some light shaming from Berthe. At this point, Albrecht’s power and privilege get the best of him. Who better to take that anger out on than Giselle? She’s to blame, he thinks. Without her, he wouldn’t be forced to confront what a terrible human he has become.
Albrecht grabs the sword from Hilarion and goes after Giselle, but in a final act of love for her, Hilarion throws himself in the path of the sword and dies for her. Hilarion’s death snaps Albrecht out of his rage and he comes to the realization that he almost killed this innocent peasant woman. He is filled with guilt, madness overwhelms his fragile heart, and he dies.
Act II is set in a moonlit glade near Giselle’s Albrecht and Hillarion’s graves on the night of their burial. Hilarion is grieving Giselle’s death Giselle and her BFF (the woman from Act I’s Peasant Pas de Deux that doesn’t serve the story at all) stand dumbfounded at their gravesites. “How did all of this killing happen in one act of a ballet?” they muse. Giselle confesses that she feels guilty that all of this happened, but BFF sets her straight. They dance together, and through a more meaningful pas the deux, the two come to the conclusion that Giselle is not at fault. They go home to eat ice cream and unwind.
Meanwhile, Albrecht and Hillarion wake from their graves and immediately start fighting. The noise of their scuffle attracts Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, female spirits jilted before their wedding day sick and tired of men getting away with this crap who rise from their graves at night and seek revenge upon men who have harassed or led young women on by dancing them to death purgatory, so their souls will never be at rest and they will have to live with their guilt forever. Giselle is summoned from her grave and welcomed by the supernatural creatures, who then quickly disappear. Albrecht enters searching for Giselle’s grave, and her spirit appears before him. Overwhelmed by remorse and grief for the girl he grew to love, he begs forgiveness. Her love undiminished, Giselle readily forgives him. The scene ends with Albrecht in pursuit of Giselle as she disappears into the forest.
Hilarion enters pursued by the Wilis, who throw him to his death in a nearby lake. The Wilis then surround Albrecht and sentence him to death. He begs to be spared, but Myrtha refuses. Giselle protects Albrecht from the Wilis as they attempt to dance him to exhaustion. Day breaks and the Wilis retreat to their graves, but Giselle’s love has saved Albrecht. By not succumbing to the feelings of vengeance and hatred that define the Wilis, Giselle is freed from any association with them and returns to her grave to rest in peace.
Now we’ve truly departed the original storyline of the second act. Giselle will no longer have to spend the duration of her afterlife saving the man who led her on and eventually caused her to die.
But don’t worry, it’s still a story of forgiveness. I’m getting there.
Myrtha, appalled, summons the Wilis (who have their own swords) to surround the men and the dancing begins. Albrecht and Hilarion definitely don’t want to live out the rest of eternity with one another. Albrecht still does far too many entrechat six. Hillarion does something equally challenging, like maybe a penché in pointe shoes, and the audience is convinced that the men are exhausted.
At this point, Albrecht develops a plan. He turns to Hilarion, indicating that he will dance for both of them so Hilarion can take a break. Hilarion, seeing this compromise as the only way they will both survive the night, agrees. The two trade off resting and dancing until the sun rises. Having forgiven one another, they are still dead, but not in eternal purgatory. While the men pas de deux themselves back to the grave, the Wilis close the curtain.
Source: “Giselle Synopsis.” Joffrey.org. Joffrey Ballet, 2017. Web. 11 November 2017.