Just reading through Malcolm’s review I was just musing what a “Giselle” would look like which not only hashed through the usual social and gender inequality issues but upped the ante with some really nasty Oedipal variations.
Let’s see … in the normal psychological development, the "Oedipal family drama," the infant male desires the mother. But she is proscribed (the incest taboo) by the greater authority and power of the father and instead the male must satisfy himself with acceptable substitutes such as other women. The prohibited desire is then repressed and forms the basis of the subconscious. This is just the briefest schematic of course.
Is “Giselle” essentially a psychoanalytical process narrative? I don’t think so. But, isn’t there a little resemblance? Doesn’t Albrecht desire a woman he may not possess? And isn’t he compelled by the Prince of Courland’s elder patriarchal authority to content himself with Princess Bathilde? If a production wanted to be really ham handed and Freudian, it could cast a very young dancer for Albrecht, a Norma Desmond “Sunset Boulevard” type for Giselle, a stern patriarch type for Courland, and a younger version of Giselle for Bathilde. Don’t smirk … productions of the play “Hamlet” are that clumsy. Think of the famous b&w Olivier film.
But if Bathilde was Jocasta to Albrecht’s Oedipus what a messy world it would be. Then, would Albrecht’s desire for Giselle be his psyche’s attempt at normal development by trying to avoid the incest which is normally prohibited but is actually sanctioned in our imaginary production? In this production’s messed up psychological universe, we would root for Albrecht and Giselle because avoiding the incestuous union with Bathilde/Jocasta is exactly what normative psychological development requires but this production works against.
I would definitely bring back the original ending where Bathilde and Courland find Albrecht and take him away. It’d be kinda creepy.
We could make it even more messed up by making Myrtha also into a Jocasta type – think of it as a ballet version of D.H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers.” … or is it already a Bourne/AMP ‘been-there-done-that’?
I’m not trying to be difficult on discussing iconic works of the ballet canon. But what I think I’m getting at is that to discuss any particular production – the ways it is similar to or different from the “original” (provided we could define it) – is in fact to appreciate and maybe question the genius of the Ur-text itself.
There is for instance a possible reading of “Giselle” that sees it as the expression of an essentially patriarchal reactionary ideology. The ballet was created by men for an appreciative male audience. In its masculine fantasy, the wayward Albrecht can destroy Giselle in one world and still be saved by her in the next. Okay okay that’s really heavy handed (of an earlier vintage of feminism).
But is it really that easy, anyway? In the daylight world of Act I, social class and the rules of society reign supreme. In the moonlit world of Act II, true power has a feminine face and the rules of magic and of the dance are ascendant. Power and gender are not so easily partitioned, perhaps.
Did the 19th century choreographers map out either interpretation in their productions? Or are the ballets rich and complex enough that they find social and cultural forces circulating through themselves?
I’d like to make a case that thinking about ballets in a variety of ways – including being critical, skeptical, analytical, etc – potentially enriches them. I think we’ve brought up these sorts of issues about “Giselle” and other ballets in other threads.
<small>[ 21 June 2003, 11:40 PM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>