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Nijinski in the rôle of Albrecht in the ballet Giselle

The Hunk: Loys/Albrecht

Loys, who is well aware that a boy of twenty can make the daisies say whatever he chooses repeats the test, which, this time, is favourable

The Romantic Ballet as Seen by Théophile Gautier compiled by Cyril Beaumont, pg 53

Albrecht, the young duke of Silesia is an aristocrat in love with a peasant girl but engaged to a noblewoman: class rebel or just born to rule?

There is an argument that Albrecht, like Giselle, is sewn into a system that means he is destined for unhappiness. Conversely might his visit to the village and his love for Giselle merely be an 'adventure' of the kind that men of the Jockey Club enjoyed with dancers in the world of the Opéra? In this discussion on ‘Is Albrecht a Cad?' the jury is out.

Deception and disguise

In Act One Albrecht, disguised as a peasant, nearly gives himself away as an aristocrat in the dance equivalent of dropping his fake cockney accent when he goes to kiss Giselle' s hand, or later makes a gesture to reach for the hilt of his sword - this is noticed, but not understood, by Hilarion.

The mirror world of Giselle suggests that like Giselle Albrecht cannot be free of systems, no matter what disguise he adopts in Act One, or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and decidedly of the wrong gender in Act Two. Here, his fate reflects Giselle's in Act One as he is destined for death by dancing in front of a crowd of witnesses.

Fishes and eyes

Sally Banes argues that initially Albrecht's behaviour in Act One which she describes in terms of cruelty has parallels with the behaviour of the aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France and this initially lends the ballet an edge of critique.

However this is not sustained in the drawing of the peasant Hilarion as a distinctly unsympathetic character contrasted with Albrecht's genuine mourning (Sally Banes: Dancing Women, pg 28). As Gautier said of Hilarion and his horrible death at the hands of the Wilis:

Good night, Hilarion! That will teach you to meddle in other people's love affairs! May the fish in the lake eat your eyes!

The Romantic Ballet as Seen by Théophile Gautier compiled by Cyril Beaumont, pg 57

Herbert Ross's 'Dancer's film starring Mikhail Baryshnikov tells the Giselle story in a company of dancers from Albrecht's point of view. Despite a seriously clunky script and some truly buttock-clenching moments there are some beautifully shot and beautifully danced sequences by the cast from America Ballet Theatre. Ross has form with filming dance in his work in Footloose and The Turning Point. A shift of focus from a female protagonist to a male protagonist is also a feature of Antonio Gades 'Carmen'.

What's in a name?

The name Loys means loyal. The name Albrecht means noble. These two themes, loyal and noble, play out, against each other, in the ballet.

In Act One, Loys appears loyal but turns out to be noble. In Act Two he appears noble but turns out to be loyal.

Hunk or Softie

Our title for this card is gently ironic.

Modern male ballet icons such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Carlos Acosta and Edward Watson are powerful and athletic in roles that allow them to express a range of emotions and ideas of masculinity. But t'was not ever thus.

Gautier seems to have disapproved strongly of the presence of male dancers in a ballet in anything but mime or character parts ... writing in May, 1838, he praises Theresa Elssler for her good sense in eliminating them from her ballet, La Volière.

Cyril Beaumont in the introduction the The Romantic Ballet as Seen by Théophile Gautier, pg 9

Lucien Petipa, the dancer who played Loys/Albrecht in the first production, does not even get a name check in Jules Janin's extensive review.

Opera Polka by Bouve Sharp LC
Jules Perrot and Carlotta Grisi

The largely male bourgeois audience of the Paris Opéra had become uncomfortable with male danseurs and male ballet dancers in the 19th century were often written about in relation to ideas of femininity:

... from the waist downwards, he is delightful to look at. ...

... we cannot keep silent regarding Perrot's legs...

The foot and knee joints are unusually slender, and counterbalance the somewhat feminine roundness of the contour of his legs; which are at once soft and strong, elegant and supple

Gautier writing about the dancer Jules Perrot, Carlotta Grisi's husband from The Romantic Ballet as Seen by Théophile Gautier compiled by Cyril Beaumont, pg 43

1 Beaumont, Cyril (1944) The Ballet Called Giselle 2 Gautier, Théophile (compiled and translated by Cyril Beaumont) (1932) The Romantic Ballet As Seen By Théophile Gautier 3 Video Detective (2014-02-21) Dancers 4 BelAirClassiques (2018 -05 -11) The Turning Point 5 CinemaSpagna (2015-04-27) Carmen: Carlos Saura (Trailer)

Card image: Nijinski in the rôle of Albrecht in the ballet Giselle | From the New York Public Library - with thanks