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do wilis have wings?or the spirit of Giselle?


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#1 citrus

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Posted 23 August 2003 - 08:56 PM

I just come across this page while surfing on the net.
Carlotta Grisi
Scroll down and you'll find a picture of Carlotta Grisi dancing Giselle. Click on the picture to see a larger one.
I was surprised to see that she had wings on her back. I haven't seen any Giselle with wings except for Ferri in the movie "Dancers" (I haven't seen that many though). Are wilis supposed to have wings?
Come to think of it, in "Dancers", only Giselle had wings, not the other wilis, not even Myrtha. Does this mean that Giselle is somehow different from the wilis?

Btw, this is my first post on the forum. So hello everyone! :blushing:

#2 Giannina

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 04:47 AM

Hello, citrus, and welcome to Ballet Alert! I'm "the Welcome Lady" from our Welcome forum and I get the honor of welcoming our new members. If you get a chance, go to Welcome and tell us a bit about yourself.

Sorry I can't help you on the "wing issue".

Giannina

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 04:50 AM

Hi, citrus, and welcome to the Forums here at Ballet Talk on Ballet Alert! Online!

There are several things going on with the iconography of the Romantic ballet. First, few photographs exist of the productions, second, the engravings and cuts meant to show the various ballets and dancers were often recycled interchangably one for another. I can hear the printer and the typesetter arguing now, "Hey, we gotta job here wants a picture of Grisi in the new ballet, and they want it yesterday." "But we don't got no pitcher of Carlotta in nothin'!" "Whaddaya got?" "Just an old plate of Taglioni as a sylphide." "OK, use that, just rub the ol' lady's face and hair off with a piece of lead and carve in Carlotta's" "OK!"

Short-cuts in printing aside, there might be an argument for Giselle to have wings and the other ghosts not. For one thing, she is a different sort from them, in terms of spirit. The others are all earth-creatures, rising from it and returning to it. Giselle herself is more of an air-spirit, still full of life, and even willing and able to disobey Myrtha. And hey, she's the star of the show!

#4 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 06:33 AM

I disagree with Mel here, Citrus. I haven't gone to the picture you found on the internet, but I am quite sure it must be the lithograph by Brandard in which Giselle appears to be coming out of a temps leve with her bras a la lyre. Her wings (peacock feathers superimposed on gauze) are a way of signalling the ballet's connection to La Sylphide, whose identical wings were, of course, essential to her identity. There are two independent confirmations of Carolotta's wings--Challamel's picture of Giselle apparently wired, with "j'ecoute" arms, and her legs mid cabriole, and another anonymous one of Giselle and Albrecht and two wilis (Moyna and Zulma perhaps?). Giselle is en face, so no wings in sight, but the wilis have them, though theirs are rounded whereas Giselle's in the other lithographs have gothic points.

In the original scenario, Giselle's wilihood was confirmed by a coronet of flowers with a star in the centre. In Petipa's redaction (which might take the detail over from Gautier and St Georges), she receives the gift of flight from Myrthe when she does the pirouette saute en attitude. Wings were probably eliminated in the 20th Century because they interfered with the line, but they were certainly there at the Paris premiere, and might well have been there in St Petersburg as well. Perhaps RG would be kind enough to look through his collection and let us know if he finds anything. I don't seem to have any Imperial Giselles in my books, and my pictures of Karsavina with Nijinsky in the ballet don't give a view of her back. I don't have a copy of Beaumont's study of Giselle, but that would be a very good place to get clarity on this matter.

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 08:44 AM

A little later work on Giselle by Marian Smith, Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle, makes it plain that a considerable amount of borrowing from one show to another was going on in 1841. The costumes are listed as being by Lormier, who was the "house designer" for costumes from 1837 - 1850+. He had been one of Eugène Lami's assistants and may have worked on the original Sylphide. Ciceri's backdrop from another show was used for Act I, and it is just possible, that despite the Opera's producer, Louis Véron, after an 1840 fulmination against the practice, may have allowed Lormier to reuse his practically "generic" tutus from another ballet or opera. Berthe's caution in Act I does mention "wings will sprout from your back", but this may have become a simple necessity because the borrowed costumes had wings! Originally, the Wilis were supposed to represent all nations and places, and Moyna and Zulma were supposed to be, respectively, an odalisque and a bayadere. They ended up in white just like everybody else. Incidentally, the original Zulma was Zulmé, and was danced by Sophie Dumilatre, the sister of the original Myrtha, Adèle Dumilatre.

#6 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 09:17 AM

Yes, but the costumes, even though borrowed, were incorporated, and so became part of the ballet's historical Gestalt. And those generic tutus would give rise in time to that most marvellously generic of genres, the ballet blanc, which Petipa homaged in almost all his surviving masterpieces. I think it's a great pity that contemporary designers don't acknowledge this. The Kirov Enchanted Garden in DQ is a hideous conveyor belt of pastel lavatory rolls--imagine how wonderful it would look in white tutus!--while Raymonda I.ii is blue in the Bolshoi tape and their SB II is pink (I think). In my ideal ballet world, all these would costumed in white, with differences only in hemline and one or two props, such as the shoulder to wrist veil/stoles of the shades in Bayadere.

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 09:28 AM

I remember the first Don Q I saw - the Bolshoi's, and the scene with the Dryads was all white-and-gold. The effect was lovely.

#8 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 10:59 AM

Mel, that does sound very nice, but still not wholly idiomatic in my book. The gold belongs more in Beauty III. This is a properly sylvan romance with dryads carrying palm branches, and so telling DQ that he is indeed a palmer come to his holy land. It should rather be costumed rather in the spirit of Sylphide/Giselle.

Citrus, I am SO glad you asked this question because it's important to an understanding of the ballet. Thank you very much. It had never crossed my mind before, but I realise now that Carlotta could never have danced a pas de deux like the one in Petipa's Act II if she had those wings on her back. They would have crumpled up very inartistically in the developpe devant au corps cambre, and they would have broken against her partner's tunic in those lifts at the start of the A flat variation. I think they might be called dressage lifts--not sure of that. Any how, those ones that rise vertically from the floor against the male's torso. My guess is that Petipa probably shrank those wings to butterfly size. I have found in my Keith Money book on Fonteyn that she wore these stunted ones in 1967.

Bournonville's ballets give us a good idea of what French ballet was like in the 1820s, and probably still was like in the 1840s as well. There are few lifts--if any--in his pas de deux, and the male often dances as the mirror image of his partner. You might remember that in B's La Sylphide, James touches the sylph only once before he accidentally kills her, and that's in the supported penchee at the end of the ballabile. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was added after B's death, but even if it wasn't, the audience is meant to think that she is doing the arabesque without help because his hand is out of sight behind her skirt. The grand pas de deux in Giselle (A Flat), even though it's the kind of adagio that Petipa would come to clothe in sustained lifts for the dancers was, 1841, much more like the Kermesse in Bruges pas de deux, and indeed like the mirror pas de deux that Giselle and Albrecht still dance after first meeting in the forest (that stop-start G major gavotte in unusual 4/8 time). If Giselle had wings as big as a pterodactyl's, she would still be able to dance it without interfering with her partner!

#9 citrus

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 03:56 PM

Wow! Mel Johnson and R S Edgecombe, thank you SO much for the replies. There's so much to discover about Giselle. I'll check out the books you mentioned.

R S Edgecombe, yes, that's the picture I was talking about. And I agree that Carlotta's wings would be rather inconvenient for partnering. Ferri's would be more practical. It didn't occur to me that this difference in costume may reflect a change in the choreography. Thank you for pointing it out.

And Giannina, thank you for the reminder. I'll go over to the Welcome forum to introduce myself.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 04:59 PM

Mel, that does sound very nice, but still not wholly idiomatic in my book. The gold belongs more in Beauty III. This is a properly sylvan romance with dryads carrying palm branches, and so telling DQ that he is indeed a palmer come to his holy land. It should rather be costumed rather in the spirit of Sylphide/Giselle.

Perhaps, but remember that this is the place where all the old ballonnés go to die. Long skirts would conceal these steps and work contrary to the interest of the choreography. I think that they added the gold to offset the Dryads from the background and lighting, which were both rather green.

#11 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 07:27 PM

Point taken, Mel. And you are right, in 1869, the dryads had classical tutus of the imperial kind. In fact an even more important elephant burial ground for ballonnes is SB 2--one of the most sublime moments in all of Petipa where the ballonne-ing dancers link up and travel de cote in contrary motion, like wind-parted curtains of rain. I still weep a few tears whenever I see it! Classical tutus are essential there. I was thinking more in terms of an essentially green/white contrast. The gold would, in my opinion, have been too Versaillish for a Romantic context, one in which tonnelets and heeled slippers had been cast aside for a new (illusory) primitivism.

#12 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 25 August 2003 - 02:20 PM

Hi again, Citrus. Any excuse to avoid grading essays, so here I am again to tell you that I've just had another thought about Giselle's wings! The reason why they are shaped as they are, with points at the tip, rather than rounded like the Sylphide's, is almost certainly because the designer wanted us to think of moths. I know a little about butterflies, but next to nothing about moths, but even so, I am fairly sure that that concave line to the forewing (as opposed to the convex butterfly line of Sylphide's) can be found in some moths, but never in butterflies. The point of this is to stress the sinister nature of wilidom. The Romantic poet Keats lists a moth in his catalogue of gothic (=scary) objects at the start of his "Ode on Melancholy." That's because moths, like wilis, are largely nocturnal. Also, it's worth remembering that a good percentage of the first audience for Giselle would have had a classical education. They would have known how to "read" the wings because the Greek "psuche" can mean either a spirit or a moth or a butterfly (that's why Keats says let not "the death-moth be / Your mournful Psyche"). Butterflies were engraved on Greek tombstones as an emblem of resurrection. All of which shows that Giselle's wings have quite a lot riding on them, in addition to Carlotta's rather weighty (but very beautiful) thighs! Cheers!

#13 rg

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Posted 25 August 2003 - 06:25 PM

a few things:
in beaumont's balletcalledgiselle there are at least 10 illustrations showing wings on the wilis and/or giselle. these span period prints of the ballet's first era, into the earlier russian era w/ muravieva (complete w/ wings) through to the 20th century, notably olga spesivtseva.
funnily enough none of the photos of alicia markova shows her back, but in her book 'giselle and i' she says, if i rem. correctly that she never traveled w/ out a pair of giselle wings in her suitcase and said in that regard that it was imperative that giselle have wings.
the only sketch i've ever seen purporting to be from the original prod. of giselle is in lifar's 1942 book: GISELLE, APOTHEOSE DU BALLET ROMANTIQUE, and facing p. 126 in a sketch identified as "giselle [2e acte] costume de Wili; dessin anonyme (bibliotheque de l'opera)" there is a limply drawn female figure in a light ballet dress trimmed w/ what looks like a cross between thin seaweed and rick-rack, and she's sprouting two feathery wings, much more like those of cherub than a peacock-feathery sylph, but wings no less.
beaumont incidentally prescribes wings for giselle, myrtha and the wilis in his specifications for any production's costuming.
regarding butterfly vs moth wings, it struck me w/ some interest that in vera krasovskaya's biography of nijinsky, which i can read only in the english transation, but which i also have in russian, she insists, in trying to define nijinsky's debut role in the ballet interpolated into 'don giovanni' and referred to at the time as the ballet of the 'roses and the butterflies' that nijinsky, supposedly playing a butterfly in fact should have been identified as a moth. this leads me to believe that in russian in any case the moth might well be a male role while the butterfly might be thought of as a female one. still in petipa's 'les caprices du papillon' there were both male and female dancers cast as butterflies, tho' in the case of the original male lead, pavel gerdt, his character was listed as 'phoenix/butterfly' while varvara nikitina's character was simply: butterfly.

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 02:35 AM

Where is Vladimir Nabokov now that we really need him? As involved as he was with the creation of beautiful writing, and stylish, while learned, prose, he was also one of the world's foremost lepidopterists. There are butterflies with convex profiles to their wings, and those with concave. The same holds true for moths. The death-moth in Keats may be a reference to the death's-head moth, which figured in The Silence of the Lambs. The moth actually has a pattern which resembles a skull on the dorsal side of the thorax.

#15 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 26 August 2003 - 02:56 AM

Mel, I was careful to specify the FOREwing of Carlotta's pair--by which I meant the line from the head to apex of the upper wing. Many butterflies have ragged profiles to their margins from the apex down the side of the wing, some so concave there, in fact, that they are called Commas. There is, however, no butterfly that I know of with a concave line like Carlotta's, but quite a few moth species, among them the SA Pine Tree Moth. Can't give you its Linnaean name because I have never studied Hymenoptera. You are quite correct about the Death's Head Moth in Keats. Its most famous iconological appearance in the C19 is in a hideous Tate painting either by Millais or Holman Hunt, called, I think, The Bad Shepherd. He is showing his mistress a Death's Head Moth while the sheep stray dangerously in the background.

RG, are you implying that the moth is considered more macho in Russia because it is on the whole dowdier than the butterfly? If so, John Taras cocked a snook at this convention in Piege de lumiere.


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