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Mme. Hermine

So why is Myrtha the queen and not someone else?

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well they're all wilis, right? and supposedly the same thing(s) happened to all of them, so why is she the queen? maybe something worse than what happened to the others happened to her?

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And who names these people? Her back-up wilis have names as well, right (Myrta and the Enforcers -- a girl group gone bad)

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so maybe there's a wili hierarchy? could it be a like a hereditary monarchy? or did she maybe get the job because she was dumped in a worse situation than any of the others and has to protect her turf...wonder what she gets out of it? hazard pay for her toes after all the bourrees....film at eleven! :mad:

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In one of the early librettos of Giselle, the wilis were supposed to come from all different parts of the world, and dance in their native costumes (more Romantic interest in folk color). Either Moyna or Zulma was supposed to be a Persian maiden, I think and hence the exotic name. I suspect that in real life Myrtha was a Very Important Person, and that is why she is their leader. Do you think that Bathilde will become a wili?

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Bathilde loves herself too much to die brokenhearted over Albrecht. She'll flounce around peevishly for a few weeks until some other prince crosses her line of vision.

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This is somewhat off topic, but the flouncing Bathilde is something that bothers me about ABT's production, unless they have toned it down a bit. Recently she has come across as a Joan Crawford caricature, flicking her hand contemptuously at Giselle, and practically shrieking with annoyance when Giselle accidentally touches her in the mad scene. She is a lady, and wouldn't act like that. I think she should be cool, but gracious--after all she does have enough heart to give Giselle a present. (I miss in ABT the little bit of mime when she tells Giselle that she too is engaged and they are girls together). Counts like Albrecht didn't grow on trees in that small little world, and Giselle is partly her tragedy too--she is being publically humiliated when her finace so clearly prefers a little peasant girl. The old Royal Ballet production used to have her turn her back on Albrecht in cold contempt, which is much more effective than ABT's recent shrieking meanie approach, I think. And of course in the original, she was good enough for Giselle to give Albrecht to.

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Exactly, Mary, the Wili Moyna seems to have been an odalisque, Zulma a bayadère, and there were Wilis from several more or less exotic places, each performing a characteristic 'national' dance. Although the exotic dances are gone, the various rhythms can still be heard in the score.

The original Myrtha also seems to have been a completely different character than we are used to now. More an amusing seductress (more sylphide ?) than a cold-hearted leader of ghosts.

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I've always thought of Bathilde as being a bit like May in The Age of Innocence - not evil, just the wrong match for Albrecht. Actually, I think the same thing of Hilarion for Giselle, not bad, just unsuited.

Now that I think of it, would that sort of parallel work in casting? If I got to set Giselle, I would make sure Bathilde's costume made her stiff - not bad or evil - just stiff, upright and formal. (A high lace collar, full sleeves. . .) She's the palace, etiquette, society and duty. With a young, sincere Albrecht, this would work as a contrast to Giselle.

In the same way, I would try and cast a Hilarion who was physically badly matched with Giselle, just so people could see immediately they are not meant to be together. I'm just trying to figure out how to do this. . .way too tall? I thought Kronstam's casting of Peter Bo Bendixen as Hilarion to Riggins' Giselle was fascinating because both Riggins and Bendixen are very good looking, but in different ways. Riggins is callow and blond - it suited Ryom's wide-eyed, innocent face. Bendixen is dark and angular, and looks experienced. Dark and Fair distinctions would read more to a Danish audience than they would to me (and I think they're used here) but also, there's just the sense you get about Bendixen's Hilarion that he is rough, not just around the ages, but that even though he loves Giselle, he would be more than she could handle.

What about Hilarion? Should he just be too coarse, or would it make dramatic sense to intimate that he is sexually "dangerous"? (I don't mean he mauls her, just casting someone with that sort of dark magnetism to contrast with a purity in Albrecht and Giselle) Is that too much Freud for the ballet?

*

I'm adding this in after posting - I just wanted to throw it out and see if people thought this would be a possible reading with the right cast.

A Giselle in her late teens, and young for her age; Hilarion is several years older and has courted before. He thinks it's time for him to settle down, she is the prettiest girl in the village and he is genuinely charmed by her. But from her point of view, he's just too old, and even a bit frightening - he wants marriage and children *now*, too little courtship, it's too real. I give you rabbits, we make babies. In walks Albrecht, who is refined, gentle and a dreamer, like her. It's a spiritual match. They both see each other as idealists, and their love is pure. Would this work? It makes the revelation of his prior engagement even more painful to Giselle - she's being betrayed on all sides.

What do you think? Does this particularize the story or betray it?

[ 04-17-2001: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

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When I watch "Dancers", I always find myself thinking that if I were Giselle, I would surely choose Hilarion (Victor Barbee), over Albrecht (Baryshnikov) - (IMHO) he's better looking!

:mad:

If you have the seen the version of Giselle with Mezentseva (sp?), you will see that their Hilarion definately does NOT suit Giselle - much too old - and physically Giselle seems to dwarf him in size.....well, at least in my opinion!

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I keep mulling over my imaginary staging of Giselle in my mind!

Is it throwing the wrong spin on the story to consider Bathilde and Hilarion opposite sides of the same coin - "the wrong choice"? I know that changes the original intent (there wouldn't have been a reconciliation scene with Bathilde.) It has a logical structure and symmetry, but is it forcing the story?

If I were staging the ballet, the place I would do this is in the mad scene. Nothing major - I would just make sure Bathilde did not leave immediately, and by where she is placed in relation to Albecht, Giselle and Hilarion, you can create the connection and implied comparison.

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Leigh Witchel -- I think your scenario is plausible, but I actually have enjoyed versions where Albrecht too is obviously in some way "wrong" for Giselle. (His love for her need not be played all that "spiritually" -- I don't know that Gautier, of all people, would have pictured it that way.) I could even imagine a production in which, from a certain point of view, Hilarion IS the right pairing for her -- which is exactly what makes Albrecht attractive.

(Whatever their earlier origins, by the mid-nineteenth-century the dark/light codings did have ethnic and racialized connotations -- Just take a look at some of the 19th century illustrations of the Nibelunglied in which the bad guys are uniformly semitic in terms clearly corresponding to nineteenth-century cliches...so for twentieth century productions, although I think it's fine to draw on physical contrasts for particular casts I'm not sympathetic to it as a way of building theatrical or "moral" symbolism for a production as a whole.)

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I could actually imagine such a production as well - Reading Mary Cargill's description of Malakhov and McKerrow in Giselle and the story they implied with yet a different slant shows again that the regisseur should recreate the relationships and details of the story with each new cast. Malakhov's Albrecht has a different personal history than Carreno's, Kronstam's or Riggins', and so on throughout the cast.

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in 'a portrait of giselle' markova is interviewed and says she was always told that giselle didn't care for hilarion because he had a red beard!

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I think Giselle falls for Albrecht because he's romantic. Hilarion is probably quite a bit older - he's a forester, which would have given him some social cachet in the world of peasants, because he had access to the produce of the forests (rabbits, birds, wood). Remember this was an era when the ordinary peasant couldn't take anything but fallen wood from the forests and couldn't hunt rabbits. Nevertheless, Giselle is probably feeling "trapped" by her assigned "fate" - to marry Hilarion. Albrecht is younger, handsomer, and more interesting. Sort of like a teenager falling in "love" with a movie or rock star. She can't love HIM - because she doesn't really KNOW him - Giselle loves the IMAGE she has of Albrecht. Hilarion is certainly fond of Giselle (although he isn't always played that way - a lot of people play him as though he just thinks of Giselle as his "property"), and doesn't want her to wind up as the dupe of the cad, Albrecht. And Giselle WOULD have been duped. Albrecht could never have married her - he's got to marry Bathilde and fulfil his royal duty. Giselle would have wound up "barefoot and pregnant" - although perhaps provided for in Albrecht's cottage.

So I actually think that the GOOD pairing is Giselle and Hilarion and it is Albrecht who is "wrong". Admittedly, it would be hard to cast for that: just as a matter of practicality in partnering one couldn't have too great a mismatch in height. One also isn't likely to have dumpy, peasant-looking ballerinas in a ballet company! It would really be casting against type to cast a soubrette-type woman against a "princely" man.

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Back to the original thought-line of the thread: I always thought Myrtha was the Queen because of a sort of Green Beret reading of the 23rd Psalm..."Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil,/For I am the meanest mutha IN the valley!"

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Perhaps Myrtha is the Wilis queen because she was a queen before her death. Giselle dates from the 1840s and the 1840s audience might assume a continuity of royalty in life to royalty in death.

Cliff

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Re Myrtha's "ranking," I'd go with the school of thought that says she was a noble in life, and therefore gets to be a noble in death. Perhaps Moyna and Zulma were slightly lesser nobles.

I have to put a word in on the Dark/Fair dichotomy, because, at least in ballet, it really doesn't have a thing to do with anti-semitisim. I've looked at hundreds of lithographs from the Romantic era and have never seen a drawing that matches the anti-semitic drawings (cartoons? from popular theater?) that Drew referred to. In the Danish tradition, at any rate, the "dark" came from Italy or Spain and had a more supple way of moving. He or she also represented a livelier lifestyle, one might say, not only more overtly flirtatious, but simply more energetic, hot-tempered, etc. In 19th century Denmark, it was the blond who was melancholic; the dark was merry.

As far as "Giselle" goes, I've read the same things as Mme. Hermine -- Hilarion has a red beard. Red beards were the mark of a villain; Von Rothbart (literally, Red Beard) in "Swan Lake."

On Leigh's "staging," the "not quite right for us" version would probably work dramatically. That's what's so great about Giselle -- it's so flexible a story. In essence, it's one more retelling of the extremely popular cautionary tale: everyone knows that Sue is meant for Tommy, except Sue, who chafes at the idea that she has to marry that nice, dull boy next door. Enter the Tall Dark Handsome Stranger. She flirts. If she's lucky, she realizes, just in time (perhaps because Tommy caught typhoid) that He is Not The One and returns to her Intended.

Albrecht and Bathilde....but perhaps Bathilde deserves her own thread. And she's about to get one :mad:

[ 04-18-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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The drawings I referred to above were by a late Victorian children's book illustrator -- Arthur Rackham.

I have no idea if it has any bearing on ballet story telling traditions -- and rather doubt it -- but central European anti-semitic iconography going back centuries, maybe even back into the middle ages, also uses red hair as a code for "jew" figures (including Judas in mystery plays)...

My only point re ballet is not that there is a particular coding in mind when a villain is dark etc., but that by the nineteenth century these "types" did bear connotations that aren't altogether innocent of ideas about racial type and racial purity. So, personally, I'd be unsympathetic to contemporary productions that organize their symbolism in that way. Of course, with a particular cast, theatrical effects are going to emerge and I have no problem w. that...

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Drew, I've seen a lot of the same drawings, but I don't think central European iconography can be equated with all of ballet (especially, since the Dark and Fair discussion started on a different thread as a discussion of Danish ballet) and I don't think the same minds are at work. I would think it highly unlikely that either Hilarion or Von Rothbart were intended to be seen as "villainous Jews." Rothbart was a Baron (not very many of those about) and Hilarion, as a gamekeeper, was highly placed in the village social order.

My only point is that I think works of art should be read in the contexts of their time and place, and I'm impatient (as has been evident before :mad: ) with layering 20th century [sic] politics or psychology onto earlier works. There's a whole school of feminist theory that would wish "Giselle" off the stage as being a hideous manifestation of sexism (I don't quite understand why, but I'll believe them. I'll still go and see "Giselle."). I don't think it's fair to say that, in this instance, a northern European tradition of dark/fair -- deliberately using it, not an accidental casting -- as a part of storytelling has to be discontinued because of something going on at another time, in another part of Europe. Denmark has its sins, but anti-semiticism is not one of them and I really know of no examples of it in Danish theater art; rather to the contrary.

Sorry. This is far from Myrtha's hierarchical ranking, a manifestation of patriarchal societal norms :D

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Just let me clear up one misunderstanding, and I'll get back to Myrtha! My original point to Leigh Witchel actually had nothing to do w. anti-semitism (I didn't remotely mean to suggest anyone in Giselle was coded Jewish...) It did have to do with typing based on coloration (dark/fair) which, by the nineteenth century, can't be entirely separated out from questions of how people were picturing ethnic/racial difference and it's relation, for example, to innate characteristics -- like spirituality -- and class heirarchy. (All those wilis each from a different countries, may even play into this -- Giselle only precedes by about ten years the grand international exhibitions in Paris and London which had everything to do with an interrelation of cultural/trade AND heirarchical stagings of different nationalities.) For that reason I don't think it's being anachronistic to raise these issues in relation to nineteenth-century European ballet even if the original archetypes arose under different conditions. By the early nineteenth-century -- though, of course, more strongly by the end -- these are layers of meaning and association that were part of the texture that audiences and artists lived, sometimes consciously, sometimes less so. It's hardly a profoundly shaping element of Giselle, and, no, I don't find Giselle offensive, but I'm doubtful that discussions of archetypal "colorations" can easily be separated from other, more uncomfortable issues. I'm way off topic, but wanted to clarify my original point which was partly misunderstood...

As far as Myrtha's nobility goes, reading people's comments, I wondered if it doesn't in a way "double" the Giselle/Bathilde opposition of Act I. Actually, if one had a modern production in which Act II was a dream -- mentioned I think on another of the Giselle threads -- one could even imagine a double casting of the role. That would be a little too schematic for my taste and obviously at odds with elements of the original librettists' plan, but there is a way in which both acts see Albrecht caught between a "noble" woman and Giselle.

[ 04-18-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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Does anyone know the origin of the name Myrtha? I find that in my mind, without any actual knowledge, I have always associated it with bitterness - perhaps thinking of myrrh, with its "bitter perfume". This is just popular etymology, with no basis in fact, but I thought that possibly her name might have some symbolic significance. I can't find the name in any of my books on names, nor (so far) on the Internet.

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It took a bit of digging (sorry, couldn't resist), but a look into my great-grandfather Otto's German-English dictionary gives an etymology for Myrthe, Myrtha as "bitter", from Hebrew.

It also occurs to me that that name could be Hobson-Jobsoned a bit and mixed with Marthe, Martha, "Mistress of the house; lady" from Aramaic.

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Many thanks for that to you, Mel, and your great-grandfather Otto. Maybe I had heard it somewhere. It seems reasonable that a jilted maiden whose aim is to dance men to death should be bitter.

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This may seem ridiculously simple, but couldn't Myrtha have been the first Wili? It makes sense to me that she has acquired her power through age- she just existed before any of the others, and as other jilted girls died, they drifted until they found themselves in Myrtha's domain.

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