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Alexandra

Giselle Question #2: What exactly do you have to do to get to be a Wi

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I've had discussions with friends over this. What are the necessary and sufficient qualifications to be a Wili? Is it that you have a love of dancing? Is it that you are a Jilted Maiden? OR do you have to be a jilted maiden who died of love of dancing???

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According to Heinrich Heine, who introduced the Wili to the World (hmmmm - interesting Modern Dance possibilities there) in his long essay About the Germans, the Wili is a sort of vampire derived from the souls of maidens who had died of a broken heart before their wedding days. They are dressed in their wedding gowns, and may be recognized by the fact that one hem of the skirt is always damp!

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A wili is definitely a girl (maiden or not ;) who has died before her wedding day - either of a broken heart or by suicide (depending on the theological point of being buried in unconsecrated ground). I think they are wearing white, because they are in their shrouds. They certainly are out to get revenge on men. I'm sure Freud could have written a good essay on the point.

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What does love of dancing have to do with it?

They are girls who've died before their wedding day.....I haven't asked about specific causes, but have universal acknowledgement that men are not high on the favourites list.

Especially Albrecht. (See question #1)

While I love the pretty-in-white look which is traditional, I also think that a ghostly, mouldering, shredded look is quite appropriate....the only thing I have strong objections to is wings. Wilis Should Not Wear Wings. :P

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The Wilis have to have loved dancing, not only because it's their weapon of choice, but because their personally-crafted afterlife allows them to dance dance dance every night forever and ever. Unless you take the position that the Wilis, too, are in hell and HATE dancing.... :P Seriously, I think the "dance of death" -- danse macabre -- is part of the lure of the Wilis.

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The love of dancing is all-important for the Wilis. Dancing is all they do, as indeed dancing is the essence of Giselle's 2nd Act, in contrast to the 1st.

The idea of the jilted maiden can already be found in Heine's description.

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Here is Heinrich Heine's description of Wilis. This has been translated by Marian Smith and is included in her new book, Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle (Princeton, 200O). This description was also printed at the beginning of the Giselle libretto in 1841:

GERMAN TRADITION

From which the plot of the ballet Giselle or The Wilis is taken.

There exists a tradition of the night-dancer, who is known, in Slavic countries, under the name Wili. -- Wilis are young brides-to-be who die before their wedding day. The poor young creatures cannot rest peacefully in their graves. In their stilled hearts and lifeless feet, there remains a love for dancing which they were unable to satisfy during their lifetimes. At midnight they rise out of their graves, gather together in troupes on the roadside, and woe be unto the young man who comes across them! He is forced to dance with them until he dies.

Dressed in their wedding gowns, with wreathes of flowers on their heads and glittering rings on their fingers, the Wilis dance in the moonlight like Elves [italicized]. Their faces, though white as snow, have the beauty of youth. They laugh with a joy so hideous, they call you so seductively, they have an air of such sweet promise, that these dead bacchantes [italicized] are irresistible.

Heinrich HEINE (On Germany) [italicized]

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Thanks for posting that quote, Doug. I haven't read that book (it's on my wish list) but did read Smith's article on "Giselle" in "Rethinking the Sylph" and her articles about "Giselle" in Dance Chronicles--it's important work, I think.

The quotation nicely joins the two concepts of "jilted maidens" (or at least those who die before marriage, jilted or not) and love of dancing.

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Thank you! I didn't know that the dancing was something so intrinsic--I enjoyed having the quotation.....

They ought to have a buffet table for the poor dears, at the very least.....

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Alexandra, the notion, or better the suggestion of the jilted maidens comes afterwards in Heine's description.

"It is peculiar to popular legends that their most terrible catastrophes take place at weddings (...). So long as the lips have not yet touched the brim, the pleasant drink may yet be spilled. A gloomy wedding-guest may come unbidden, and one whom no one dares bid hence. He whispers one word in her ear, and the bride grows pale. He makes a secret sign to the bridegroom, who follows him out into the stormy night, and is never seen again. Generally it is a former pledge of love with another."

(H. Heine. Translation by Charles Godfrey Leland, London, 1892)

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How very appropriate that as I sit reading this topic I have in front of me a complete multivolume edition of the works of Theophile Gautier, one volume of which contains the novelettes "Spirite" and "The Vampire", both of which seem to concern men in love with women who have, might we say, left life behind.... :wacko:

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How does one become a Wili? One is a pretty soloist who stands the Chairman of the Board up for a date. :wacko:

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One is a pretty soloist who stands the Chairman of the Board up for a date.
- only in america, i think! :wacko:
one hem of the skirt is always damp!
mel - did you mean to say "one" hem? if so, can i ask what you are getting at? - why 1 hem, not 'the' hem, or 'all the hem/s'? -not meaning to be a pain, but curious as to whether i have missed something, here. thank you!

thank you to doug and marc for the quotes - i love the writing.

actually i have always thought that the wilis could be transposed into 1960's or early 70's, as members of valerie solanis' new york based organisation (whether or not it ever really existed) SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men). sorry to all Y chromosomes present (have i got that right, mel, please?), but i'm intrigued to see WHO else - if anyone - remembers what i am talking about - WITHOUT looking it up!! B)

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Yes, that was Val Solanis who had SCUM which had approximately one member until she tried to murder Andy Warhol. She was actually a pretty fun gal, and lots of laughs among the Village crowd. When that happened, I wondered what had happened to her to make her so bitter.

My memory comes from an 1845 essay on Giselle by Gautier, translated from the original, so it may not be the best way of expressing what I think is meant. It comes from the days before the crinoline, and layer upon layers of petticoats were used to add "body" and shape to the skirts. Therefore, one hem (of the outer petticoats) could be damp, and not the next layers above the kick panel. I've actually seen a production of the ballet where some designer had read this passage too, and made one layer of the underskirts of the Romantic tutu gray.

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thanks mel - actually the bit i was asking about was whether the Y chromosome was the one for the guys? (i am well up on the womens lib stuff of the late 60's/early 70's, having been a card-carrying member at the time... although not a member of SCUM!)

what you write about "one hem" is beginning to ring some bells, now...maybe to do with the poem...

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Right, Grace, it's the guys with the Ys. And now they're finding XXY and XYY matches - ain't science wonderful? :wink:

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This is getting really off-topic, but actually a lot of "weird" genotypes can occur, like X (Turner syndrom), XXY (Klinefelter syndrom), XXX (triplo-X), XYY (once called "gene of crime" because of an incorrectly made study but in fact many men have it and are perfectly normal physically and mentally...)

Also Mel, you wrote: "When that happened, I wondered what had happened to her to make her so bitter. "

Actually, when reading that nonsensical manifesto I had thought the same... And actually she didn't exactly had a wonderful childhood (sex abuse, being homeless at 15, prostitution...):

http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Solanas

(of course I'm not saying that it's an excuse for what she did...)

There's a novel by Gautier called "La morte amoureuse" (literally the "dead woman in love")

but I've never read it- Mme. Hermine, perhaps it's one of the novelettes you mentioned?

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I wish someone would revive Puccini's first opera, "Le Villi," (The Wilis), some day, even if only in concert form. I'd love to hear what singing Wilis sound like. I gather that the plot owes a lot to Giselle, except that unlike Giselle, Anna, abandoned by Roberto, makes no effort to save him from the dance of death.

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Sometimes second thoughts are best. Go Anna! :wink:

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thank you, estelle, for a terribly sad link, which shocked even me... sorry alexandra, to post again about something unrelated to Wilis, but this will be brief, i promise: estelle, i am curious - did you read her writing in french, or in english? i am just curious as to the possibility, which you suggest, that it was translated?...and i find it odd that you seem to know who she is - although maybe that is only after you looked up her name, online? i assume you are what i would consider 'too young' to know about such things !!! (that is, under 40). i also am amazed at her birthdate - for such a strident feminist who gained notoriety in the hippie 60's : she was born in 1936 - like my MOTHER! thank you for the link, estelle. i appreciated reading it.

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grace, I didn't suggest it was translated :wink: I just said "nonsensical" because it's hard for me to take such a manifest seriously (and I had read it in English). Well, I'm 28, but someone had mentioned her name and manifesto in a discussion on a French feminist forum, and so I had looked it up on the web and had come across that biography, that's all :devil:

Farrell Fan, thanks for the information about Puccini's opera. Do you know if Puccini knew about "Giselle", or if it was just a coincidence that he used the theme of the Wilis too? And actually it makes me think about Robbins' "The Cage"...

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What I was getting at was that I knew Val casually in the Village scene in '66. We traveled in sort of parallel cyclones. She hadn't seemed angry about men in general, but she had it in for certain ones, like Allen Ginsburg and Peter Orlofsky.

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Estelle -- both Puccini and the librettest, Ferdinando Fontana, were familiar with the ballet. The opera, which premiered in 1884, was originally in one act, but was revised and expanded into two later that same year. It apparently had a modest success, and the composer was regarded as "promising." The Harper Dictionary of Opera & Operetta calls the plot "inspired by a folk-legend and, possibly, by Adam's ballet Giselle to which the story bears more than a passing resemblance." The setting is the Black Forest.

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Thanks for the information, Farrell Fan. Was it performed again after 1884?

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Estelle, according to my very old "Complete Opera Book," by Gustav Kobbe, published in 1919, "Le Villi" was actually performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1908. (The 1884 premiere had been in Milan, at the Dal Verme Theatre, not La Scala.) At the Metropolitan, the leading roles were sung by Frances Alda (a renowned soprano of the time, originally from New Zealand), the tenor Alessandro Bonci, and the great baritone Pasquale Amato, in the role of Anna's vengeful father. (Amato later originated the role of Jack Rance, the sheriff in Puccini's Fanciulla del West.)

The aforementioned "Harper Dictionary of Opera & Operetta," published in 1989, says that "Le Villi" "is still occasionally performed." I would love to be present at such an occasion. I don't know of any recordings.

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