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


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 15 April 2001 - 06:23 PM

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???

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 April 2001 - 08:59 PM

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!

#3 felursus

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 12:33 AM

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.

#4 Juliet

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 09:44 AM

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

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 10:13 AM

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.

#6 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 10:49 AM

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.

#7 doug

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 02:14 PM

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]

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 03:25 PM

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.

#9 Juliet

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 03:54 PM

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.....

#10 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 04:53 PM

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)

#11 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 15 July 2003 - 11:56 AM

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:

#12 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 July 2003 - 12:50 PM

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

#13 grace

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Posted 15 July 2003 - 02:52 PM

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)

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 July 2003 - 04:29 PM

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.

#15 grace

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Posted 21 July 2003 - 08:32 AM

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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