“Giselle, Act 2”: Stage + Studio by Annie Honebrink

Cemeteries are peace to me. My dad is the manager for the second largest cemetery in Kentucky, so I spent my childhood running through the graves and skipping amongst the dead. Act II of Giselle takes place in a cemetery. Perhaps this is yet another reason why this ballet has always captured my heart and moved my soul.

As opposed to the very human Act I, Act II is supernatural. In this act, we meet the Willies—young women who died before their wedding days. We are also introduced to their vengeful queen, Myrtha. Just as with Act I, Act II has numerous interpretations. No one actually knows the inner workings of these characters minds; however, I like to imagine what they could be. Every time I dance or watch this act, I find a new way of understanding it. Here is one such aspect.

The world was unkind to Myrtha. Her experiences in life were composed of depravity, unreliability, and instability. Her nature was unbalanced, and, coupled with the lack of dependability and affection in her life experiences—Myrtha was left distorted. Angry. Miserable. She carried these traits with her to the grave. Dejected by the loss of almost-love, Myrtha sank into the pit of corruption. 

Thriving on hatred and vengeance, the Queen of the Willies is now strong and powerful. She controls everything—even down to the placement of her pinky fingers. The world ruled her life; now she dictates her death—and the deaths of others. Nothing happens in her cemetery that she has not manipulated. Myrtha is calculating. Ruthless. Punishment and revenge are her consuming motivations. 

Giselle enters this supernatural world with soft, gentle steps. Retaining a part of the joyful spirit she held in life, she begins to move briskly, as if learning to use her wings. Her body is a flurry, light and airy, nearly out of control at first—unlike Myrtha’s perfectly composed, restrained quality.

When Albrecht wanders into the cemetery that night, Giselle is not consumed by hatred or a desire for retribution. She sees past Myrtha’s consuming fire. Unlike her fellow betrayed women, Giselle knows the truth about love. The truth that love often hurts. It isn’t easy. You don’t always reap the benefits. In its purest form, love is selfless. Act I Giselle’s love is young and immature. While pure and sweet, that love—first love—butterfly, heart race love—is the easy kind. Now, as an ethereal being, though betrayed and deceived, Giselle’s love is deeper. Stronger. More difficult. Still pure and heartbreakingly sweet—but now it is More. It is Full. Complete. It is the love that transcends the broken heart and triumphs over the painful path. It is that profound love that rises above the grave. Act II Giselle is Forgiveness—the purest, most selfless love. She overcomes that great tyrant—Vengeance. I like to imagine she stands above her lost, broken lover and leans over and softly kisses his forehead as he cries into her chest. Because she has found the truth of that mystery, Love. The truth that it is more than butterflies and promises. It is choice. Action.    

How can we overcome the Myrtha’s we face daily? The millions of temptations to fall into that pit of vengeance—that pit that ultimately only can lead to bitterness. How can we forgive? Endure? Protect? Redeem? How can we love?

Because the reality is—most of us don’t die of a broken heart.

We have to live with one.