There’s much more to the ballet Giselle than the tragic tale of an innocent girl betrayed by her lover. Channel24 spoke to ballerina Laura Bösenberg to find out why this classical great is still wowing audiences today.
Cape Town - How would you feel if you found out that your one true love – the guy you were convinced you were going to marry – had lied to you about who he was and, even worse, was already very much on course to marry another woman? Would you be able to forgive him - or would you wish him dead?
This is the choice that lies ahead for Giselle, the most beautiful girl in her village and also its best dancer, despite the fact that she has a weak heart.
She finds out that Albrecht, the man she believed she would marry, is in fact not a peasant like herself but a duke in disguise, putting him forever beyond her reach. On top of that, he is already engaged to a princess, someone from his own aristocratic circle, in an arranged marriage.
As her whole world crumbles around her, Giselle’s mind unravels and she loses her hold on sanity. In one of ballet’s most dramatic scenes, her fragile health gives in and she dies of a heart attack.
Giselle joins the Wilis
Giselle is initiated into the ranks of the Wilis, spirits of jilted brides who like herself loved to dance, and who also died of a broken heart before their wedding day. They first appear on stage wearing short veils and long white dresses, imitating the bridal attire they never wore, but their goal is pure evil: To dance to death any male who dares to cross their path.
Albrecht arrives at Giselle’s grave, grief-stricken and full of remorse. She appears to him and he begs her to forgive him. She does so, and they express their love for each other in a tender duet.
But the vengeful Wilis have no intention of letting him go and it is only Giselle’s intervention that saves Albrecht’s life. As dawn breaks, Giselle returns to her grave and the grieving Albrecht is left alone, staring at a rose she gave to him before disappearing from his sight forever.
'I find it very sad and it almost makes me angry'
Talking about the social injustice and inequality the ballet so clearly portrays, Cape Town City Ballet senior principal dancer Laura Bösenberg says: "I find it very sad and it almost makes me angry, like why can’t they be together, just because he’s from the castle on the hill and she’s the peasant in the wooden cottage? I hate it and it doesn’t make sense to me, but unfortunately this kind of thing is still around and I think a lot of people are stuck in the past."
We are comfortably ensconced in her dressing room at the Artscape theatre, where she is about to take part in a dress rehearsal for the company’s production of the ballet in which she dances the title role.
Innocence, heartbreak and betrayal
"Love is timeless. The relevance of Giselle is there’s betrayal, there’s heartbreak, there’s deceit, there’s innocence," says Laura.
"I think Albrecht meant well and he didn’t realise how sickly Giselle was. Also, maybe he’s used to having no responsibility with his upbringing, like you just turn a blind eye. I think that’s what the nobility did often – then it’s almost like it’s not happening."
To this day, it remains a fact of life that the rich and powerful of the land still believe they can get away with just about anything – and of course, they often do.
When Giselle finds out about Albrecht’s engagement, she turns to him in disbelief. “It wasn’t a love match. I’m upset with him that he didn’t explain it to Giselle. At one point she pulls his face and asks is it true, and he just turns his head. Just talk to her – communication in relationships is key!”
Another timeless lesson is “forgiveness if you’ve been hurt, whether you think it’s justified or not – you set yourself free, because I think that’s what Giselle did”.
The Wilis spice up the story with an undercurrent of malice and evil, says Laura. They also act as a foil for Giselle’s goodness and purity.
‘You could just have told me you were engaged to someone else!’
Would she have been as forgiving as Giselle, I ask. “I’d probably be a little bit resentful – like listen dude, you could have just spoken to me or told me that you were engaged to someone else! But you still love the person, you wouldn’t wish them any harm.”
Perhaps Giselle packs such a powerful punch because of its simple message that love which is deep and true is stronger than death, and of course that forgiveness can save and redeem.
“If you’ve ever been in love with someone or if you’ve loved someone and lost them, it kind of touches a chord and you can feel the sadness,” says Laura.
But she adds: “Don’t be scared of falling in love – I think it’s wonderful to love and be loved in return.”
WATCH: Classic ballet Giselle explained by a ballerina
The Cape Town City Ballet is performing Giselle at the Artscape Opera House from 6 to 15 July. Prices range from R100 to R500. Bookings at Dial-A-Seat on (021) 421 7695 or Computicket.
SEE MORE BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS HERE: Go behind-the-curtain of Giselle
(Photos: Nardus Engelbrecht/Channel24)