“We need to talk about Giselle"

Conference paper


Castelyn, S. 2023. “We need to talk about Giselle". JOMBA! Masihambisane Dialogues: 2023. Online and South Africa 24 - 26 May 2023 The Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
AuthorsCastelyn, S.
TypeConference paper
Abstract

The ballet Giselle, premiered in 1841, choreographed by Marius Petipa after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, is a key work in ballet repertory with choreographers such as Dada Masilo, Akram Khan, and Mats Ek, and dance companies, namely Joburg Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Dance Theatre of Harlem staging the work. This is a ballet that has reviews of productions stating that ‘[t]he work in itself is bipolar. The first act begins with two lovers prancing around a sunny village and ends with betrayal, a psychotic meltdown and Giselle’s death; Act 2 is danced at her gravesite’ (San Francisco Examiner, 2014) or ‘her descent into madness is one of terrible stillness followed by desperate jumps’ (Crompton, 2021). As a person with Bipolar, I am extremely frustrated with portrayals of and reference to madness or crazy, especially in dance. From the choreographer to the reviewer, we are all responsible and accountable for the proliferation of negative stereotypes of madness and thereby adding to the stigma of mental illnesses, such as Bipolar.

Recent campaigns have raised awareness of hidden disabilities and the importance of mental health care is stressed in the popular media, however disabilities such as Bipolar and Schizophrenia are still side-lined. There is very little recognition and understanding of the complexities of these disabilities. There are a few choreographers and/or dancers who live/lived with Bipolar, for example Alvin Ailey, and/or have created work about Bipolar, for example Welcome to Barrio Ataxia (2020) by Omar Román De Jesús, and there are Bipolar ambassadors, such as Emma Belle describing living with this disability as a dance. There is a ‘long and complicated relationship between madness and performance (Harpin and Foster, 2014: 4), and although recent productions of Giselle do approach the hetero-normative narrative and disrupt it with decolonial and feminist choreographic tactics, further ‘bodily analysis’ (Desmond, 1997: 33) in which the ‘ways of holding the body, gesturing, moving in relation to time, and using space (taking a lot, using a little, moving with large sweeping motions, or small contained ones, and so forth)’ (Desmond, 1997: 33) reveals how madness is perceived. In talking about Giselle, I must ask, what if Giselle is me?

Keywordsdance; madness; representation; ballet; bipolar
Year2023
ConferenceJOMBA! Masihambisane Dialogues: 2023
PublisherThe Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Publication dates
Print2023
Publication process dates
Completed26 May 2023
Deposited21 Nov 2023
JournalJOMBA! Masihambisane Dialogues Proceedings
Journal citation3, pp. 18-19
Web address (URL) of conference proceedingshttps://jomba.ukzn.ac.za/masihambisane-dialogues/issue-3/
Web address (URL)https://jomba.ukzn.ac.za/masihambisane-dialogues/challenging-genre/
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