What “Giselle” says about society in the 1840’s.

What “Giselle” says about society in the 1840’s.

You may be familiar with the saying that “Art is a reflection of society.” 

Modern-day stories such as Disney’s Frozen raise comments about feminism, and McAllister’s ‘The Happy Prince,’ raise questions about social judgement and privilege, all of which are central social concerns of today’s society.

So, what cunning edge social beliefs did the Romantic ballet, “Giselle,” carry? You may believe that Giselle’s old, conservative period forces the ballet to avoid social commentary, but, Giselle is considered an artistic snapshot of the contemporary, modern societal beliefs of the nineteenth century.

Click below for a sypnopsis of Giselle by The Australian Ballet:


Stream Giselle on BalletTV now:



It’s not exactly a ‘feminist’ piece…


Benedicte Bemet. Courtesy of the Australian Ballet

Surprise! The 1840’s were not well-versed on feminism… The entire narrative of Giselle is based around the 1840’s understanding of female ‘hysteria,’ referring to uncontrollable emotion that was considered a mental illness linked to gender/the womb. Giselle is driven into hysterical madness over her broken heart.

Moreover, doctors of the time conducted strong research into the link between hysteria and sexuality, which may explain the link between Giselle’s overwhelming love for Albrecht, and her ‘hysterical’ mental state.

Sadly, it is safe to say Giselle encouraged the concept of a ‘hysterical female’ when first performed.



The High Value of Love


Benedicte Bemet and Cristiano Martino. Courtesy of The Australian Ballet

Romantic Ballets loves love.

Ballet, as well as many other Western pieces (Looking at you, Romeo and Juliet!) considered love to be of high enough value to make death acceptable and understandable.

Just look at when Giselle declares the extent of her love to Albrecht- when she realises it is unattainable, she dies. Moreover, when Albrecht is consumed by overwhelming heartache for Giselle, he realises a future with her is unattainable, so he risks his life in exchange for a few hours with Giselle.

Love is a fascination of many Western artists, and it is very clear that ‘love’ troupes are not unique to Romantic thinking.

Although seemingly different, Giselle and The Bachelor do share a strong worship of love!




Escape to the Countryside!


Benedicte Bemet. Photography by Kate Longley

If there’s one BIG thing to know about Giselle’s setting, it’ll be the fact we’re in the middle of a widespread European Industrial Revolution. As you may know, this marks the beginning of increased city living, however, many Romantics longed for ‘the good old days,’ where everyone lived in a natural rustic setting.

Just like today, entertainment created an escape from the troubles of daily life, which may be why we spend Act 1 in Giselle’s idealistic rural village. All productions of Giselle emphasise the quaint, simple charm of the village through rustic colours, using bright, sparkly dances to bring out a utopian nature.

It appears that Giselle may be calling for their society to return to a more natural, simple and authentic life, but judging by the closeness of the ‘Willis’ to the village, we doubt anyone is particularly inclined to ‘move in.’



The Supernatural Power of the Soul


Valerie Tereshchenko
Photography by Lynette Wills

The Romantics also had a fascination with the supernatural power of the human soul, (Frankenstein, anyone?)  which is why Giselle turns into a ghostly, tragic nightmare in Act II.

Act II of Giselle is characterised by supernatural mysteriousness, moonlit ethereal dances and strong swells in both emotion and music. Giselle’s real-life society had a focus on the relationship between the earthly and the ghostly, believing strongly in supernatural elements on earth.

Introducing the Willis, who indulge in their passion for dancing, and are spiteful in nature as they died unmarried, generally spiteful of men and mad in grief. Although dead, the soul still lives on, haunting the likes of Albrecht, Hilarion and other men who face them.



Some fun facts about Act II:

Andrew Killian & Amy Harris
Photography by Jeff Busby

A prominent troupe in Romantic ballets was the ballet blanc, meaning a scene where the ballerina and all female corps de ballet dancers wear all white dresses and tutus. This was sparked by ‘La Sylphide,’ which is why both ballets have a “white act” in them.

Act II has evolved with technological advancements, using smoke machines, screens and stage lighting to achieve this supernatural element. However, the ballet wasn’t always as safe as it is now, as dancer Emma Livry discovered in 1863 when her white tutu caught fire on a gas light in a Giselle rehearsal.





If you’re interested in learning more about Giselle’s story and themes, take a squiz at these resources:



Zoom Backdrops

In a world embracing technology to stay connected FAB shares a ballet image for members using Zoom. Upload our ballet backdrop to add some colour to your next virtual catchup.

To download a backdrop, either right click if using a mouse, or press and hold if you using a tablet. Follow our Zoom Backdrop Guide for instructions on adding backdrops to your next Zoom call.


Photo by Angus Scott


Photo by Lexy Potts


Photo by Lexy Potts



FAB Knits

Leg Warmers

Look the part on the lounge this winter as you watch your favourite dance flick. Try your hand at knitting some cute and cosy ballet leg warmers with this fun easy pattern.

This pattern is great for anyone who is learning to knit, or for experienced knitters looking to whip something up quickly.

Download the pattern here.











FAB Knitting

FAB Admin Manager Amy has been enjoying having more time to knit throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. She is currently working on a pair of fingerless gloves to keep her hands warm while working at home, and adding the finishing touches to a scarf she has been knitting since January.










Anna Karenina Review

Earlier this year FAB Member, Claire Bailey undertook the challenge of reading Anna Karenina in preparation for attending the now cancelled Sydney performances of Leo Tolstoy’s novel that became an epic ballet.

Many writers consider Anna Karenina the greatest work of literature ever. Tolstoy himself called it his first true novel. It is considered a complex book in eight parts, with more than a dozen major characters, spread over more than 800 pages!

The Friends of the Australian Ballet are deeply grateful and delighted to share this book review, prepared by avid reader and member of The Friends, Claire Bailey to entice and delight.


Anna Karenina – Book Review by Claire Bailey


Tolstoy’s tragic novel of Anna Karenina starts with the introduction of Anna’s relatives and their close friends. At first, I was confused as to why the author spent so much time on these other characters. However, as their stories progressed and entwined with Anna’s I grew attached to them and eager to see how their stories played out. Most compelling was the beautiful story of Levin.  Levin is a sensitive character who battles self-confidence yet never truly gives up finding happiness.

When we are introduced to Anna we discover she is desperately unhappy in a loveless marriage and a life that does not reflect her true self. Her journey to find true love and happiness is brave and not without sacrifice with dire consequences. She soon finds herself torn between two choices: one that would lead her to a new life and the other closes the door on her past forever.

Perhaps the real heroine in the story is not Anna but her sister in-law Dolly. Dolly is a strong woman who has her own adversities. Dolly is instrumental in helping her family on their quest for love, happiness and finding inner peace.

Tolstoy’s story explores each character trying to find inner peace, and while some find it through love and forgiveness, others stories are far more tragic..



Have you recently read an inspiring book from the world of ballet? We welcome your feedback and reviews at admin@fab.org.au

FAB Favourite Ballet Books

 Need a thing or two to read? Here are some of our favourite books about ballet!

A Body of Work 

Written by David Hallberg 

Published by Atria Books 


Kicking off the list with The Australian Ballet’s future Artistic Director, David Hallberg’s A Body of Work was released in 2018. From a childhood marred by bullying, he grew to become the first American dancer to join the Bolshoi as a Principal Artist, before injury threatened his career a couple years ago. His fantastical tale is written here, and is a great way to meet our future Director! 

 Available at Dymocks 


Dancing Under the Southern Skies: A History of Ballet in Australia 

Written by Valerie Lawson 

Published by Australian Scholarly Publishing 

How did the Australian Ballet come to be? A vivid illustration of influential figures and companies that have shaped Australia over the past 9 decades. From Company founder Peggy van Praagh, to beloved Soviet Ballerina troupes, this book beautifully details the foundations of Australian culture. 

Grab a copy signed by Valerie Lawson from FAB



Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina 

Written by Misty Copeland and Charisse Jones 

Published by Hachette UK 

“Picture a ballerina in a tutu and toe shoes. What does she look like?” 


Misty Copeland, the only African-American ballerina currently dancing with the American Ballet Theatre, has always defied expectations. Beginning ballet late at age 13 as an ‘undersized’ and ‘anxious’ girl, nobody guessed she’d become an international star. From her first auditions to her first stage debuts, watch how she keeps pushing the ballet world over their toes. 

Click here to order a copy


Nuryev: The Life 

Written by Julie Kavanagh 

Published by Pantheon 

How does a poor, Tartar peasant end up in the most esteemed circles of London, Paris and New York? Nuryev’s dramatic defection from Russia created a press frenzy and a Cold-War crisis in 1961, yet he still restaged Russia’s sophisticated performances of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet for the West to see.  

Click here to order a copy




Ballet – The Definite Illustrated History 

Written by DK 

Published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd 

The history of ballet told in all of its entirety, in the format it thrives in- a collection of impressive and rare photographs covering all key figures, pieces and performances, with intriguing facts about their reception and development. An essential story that engages with over 70 famous performances, it remains a timeless gift. 

Click here to order a copy


Behind the Scenes at the Ballet Russes – Stories from a Silver Age 

Written by Michael Meylac 

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing 

Uncover the iconic, yet mysterious, Ballet Russes 

The Ballets Russes was perhaps the most iconic, yet at the same time mysterious, ballet company of the twentieth century. Inspired by the unique vision of their founder Sergei Diaghilev, the company gained a large international following. In the mid-twentieth century – during the tumultuous years of World War II and the Cold War – the Ballets Russes companies kept the spirit and traditions of Russian ballet alive in the West, touring extensively in America, Europe and Australia. This important new book uncovers previously-unseen interviews and provides insights into the lives of the great figures of the age – from the dancers Anna Pavlova and Alicia Markova to the choreographers Leonide Massine, George Balanchine and Anton Dolin. The dancers’ own words reveal what life was really like for the stars of the Ballets Russes and provide fascinating new insights into one of the most vibrant and creative groups of artists of the modern age. 

Click here to order a copy

Bolshoi Confidential – Secrets of the Russian Ballet 

Published by Liveright 

Simon Morrison 

From acid attacks to bombs and communism, Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet has battled against their own reputation and survived for over 250 years of political and cultural upheaval. A defining Company for Russian art and ballet itself, Bolshoi Confidential is an educational and insightful history of one of the world’s leading ballet companies, and the many twists and turns to the top. 

Click here to order a copy 


Double Puzzle Trouble

A double dose of complexity to keep you thinking this Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Introducing two new digital jigsaw puzzles to take you behind the scenes at The Australian Ballet’s costume storage centre in Altona. 



preview28piece preview300piece