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Drinking Bacchus WGAREG001

The God: Bacchus

"A little figure of Bacchus sitting astride a cask is borne in triumph, according to an ancient local custom." Giselle Act 1 Scene 6

Giselle flows from a dark and sexy storytelling tradition that links dancing, sacrifice and death.

The appearance of Bacchus in Act 1 when Giselle is crowned Queen of the Vintage is a key turning point in the narrative, rooting the story of Giselle in the rites of a mythic past and foretelling the darkness and danger that is to come

Bacchus as a boy

The Justamant manuscript makes this link explicit with Bacchus not represented as a statue but as a live member of the cast, a young boy.

The child Bacchus is a distinctly edgy proposition when the god is brought forth through the wild dancing, madness and blood lust of his followers the Maenads.

2048px Titian Bacchus and Ariadne
Maenads seen dancing in Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne

Blood rites and a chosen maiden

Knowing what we know of bacchic rites, does the community of villagers at the harvest festival, like the community of the wilis, demand, if not an actual death, then at least blood spilled?

That the deaths of Giselle and Hilarion both happen in front of a group is surely significant.

Looking more closely at other signs in the ballet there are clues that tell us that Giselle must die. Singled out for her love of dancing, chosen by a powerful man and then given a gold chain to wear around her neck these signs lead us to similar stories in films of ritual and sacrifice and dance: The Wicker Man (1973), Florence Pugh as the chosen one in Midsommar (201

and, for wild rites amongst dancers, Gaspar Noë’s disturbing Climax (2017)

After Nijinsky and Stravinsky glitched us all in 1913 with The Rite of Spring, telling the story of a maiden dancing herself to death continues to be too much of an offer to resist and is itself a kind of rite for many choreographers, notably Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring (1975) production.

Riteof Spring Dancers
Dancers in Nijinsky's Rite of Spring

For a different take, exploring the Rite from the victim’s perspective, see Tero Saarinen's Hunt (2012).

1 Graves, Robert (1955) The Greek Myths 2 Justamant, Henri (facsimile edition by Deutsche Tanzarchiv Köln, 2008) Giselle ou Les Wilis : Facsimile of Henri Justamant's manuscript 3 untitled (2019-22-10) Midsommar, Dance Scene 4 A24 (2018-08-04) Climax (Trailer) 5 Tero Saarinen Company (2008-03-05) Hunt