“Giselle”: Stage + Studio by Annie Honebrink

Giselle: Act I

One of the beautiful aspects of Giselle is the ability for every person to find a way to relate to the story.  The characters are incredibly human.  Each viewer should be able to find some aspect of his or her own story in Giselle, Albrecht, Myrtha, or any of the characters in this ballet.  Within each character are countless approaches one could take in considering the role—as a dancer or an audience member.  We should all walk away from this ballet having learned something about human nature—whether it be our own or that of those around us.

Here is one path down which Giselle has taken me.

Giselle is pure.  Innocent.  Generous.  She is bursting with life.  And love.  She flits across the stage, feet barely touching the ground.  Soaring with love’s wings.  So high nothing can touch her.  Playing games and leaping with joy. 


Albrecht is older.  Wiser, stronger—he thinks.  I like to believe he truly does love Giselle—in his own blurred, disordered way.  I think maybe he feels the pure joy pulsing from her heart, and he aches to be a part of it.  I think he is enamored with her energy and the exuberance she has for life.  I think his love is much younger than his years of life claim.  It is a careless love.  Selfish.  Foolish.  He understands he is not happy with his life of royalty and his betrothed.  He understands that with Giselle, a village girl, his spirit is full and free.  But he doesn’t understand that tender, bright hearts break the deepest.  He doesn’t understand that choices have consequences—and sometimes those consequences affect others.  He doesn’t understand that Truth can’t be swayed.   *

The betrayal sets in.  The hope drains out.  Funny how fickle those words, I love you.  Funny how short that vision, forever.  Giselle moves in a fog, dazed by deceit, floundering in disillusionment.  She recalls those moments of love.  The games played, dances danced, songs sung.  The flower petals picked one. by. one.  He loves me.  He loves me not.  He loves me.  He loves me not.

He loves me not.

She remembers dropping the flower and the quick kisses that followed to quell her fears.  To assure.  Convince.  She tears at her hair because it doesn’t line up and cannot be reconciled and the agony is too great to bear. 

She sees that which no one else can—the willies fluttering in the distance.  Beckoning her to come.  Away. 

 She drags the sword, the pointed tip calling her forth.  Because the pain is unbearable.  Because her heart was so pure—so young—so full.  No layers of years, no protection of experience, no jaded edges or cynical cracks.  Too generous, too selfless.  She gave it all.

The sword is pulled away, but her heart crumbles just the same.  Broken mind, crushed soul.  She runs into the arms of her lover.  The one who swore his love.  The one to whom she gave her heart.  The one she trusted.

She dies in the arms of her lover.  The one who betrayed.  Deceived.  The one who broke her heart.


Albrecht holds his dead love in his arms.  But the arms feel foreign—like someone else has inhabited his limbs.  Reality seeps into his stomach.  The reality that we all stand accountable for our actions.  The reality that you can’t return a heart.  Because when you do, it comes back broken.    

Tender, bright hearts may break the deepest,
but they also heal the strongest.

Giselle: Act II

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.