Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Creepy Ballets

If there's one thing Christmas always reminds me of, it's seeing my dear sister perform in the Academy of Performing Arts rendition of The Nutcracker. And not just seeing it once mind you, seeing it about 5 times. We were a devoted family okay? Few people know that Emmy Doomas was a bit of a ballet prodigy in her day and that I lived vicariously through her by tagging along to all performances and after parties. As such, I am an expert in everything that involves ballet. Okay maybe not, but my mind doesn't have to know the truth.

When Black Swan came out I was completely blown away and secretly having brain orgasms because of how awesomely it portrayed the darker side of ballet. Not just the actual darker side of eating disorders, bad blisters and broken toe nails but in general--how it so deliciously portrayed the somewhat dark story of Swan Lake.

For many, ballet is a very frilly pink and girly thing. And to those many people I shake my head in annoyance. Ballets are often much more dark than people realize. Most likely due to the fact that a great deal were based on fairy tales, where the original versions were of course extremely dark. Cautionary tales that teach us lessons by scaring the crap out of us is how the original fairy tales usually worked. So it makes sense that ballets would also follow suite. Plus, ballets are performances on par with something like an Opera. A spectacle of drama only instead of voice the instrument is dancing.

So let us talk about a few ballets that are extremely dark. And that would make FANTASTIC horror movies, shall we?

The Red Shoes

When Black Swan came out many people were quick to draw similarities to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1948 film The Red Shoes. Itself based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the film is another cautionary tale about how ballet often has the potential to control and take over one's life.

Although the ballet based on the fairy tale is rare to find performed these days, it still falls into the category of insanely creepy/awesome in my book. The story is about a peasant girl who gets adopted into a rich family. After lying to obtain fancy red shoes and becoming all vain and lame, the girl gets cursed by a mysterious soldier who condemns her to dance for the rest of her life (and beyond it as well).

The story is riddled with violent imagery, like the girl being forced to dance through thorns that rip at her skin and body. The girl even tries to cut off her feet hoping to destroy the curse. Plus, I just love the common theme of "dancing to death"...isn't it just the greatest!? Also, let's not forget the ill-fated Asian horror film The Red Shoes. Where the red shoes were really just pink shoes. But who's keeping track?


Giselle is the tale of a young woman who goes crazy and dies from a broken heart after learning that her love is actually a Duke and not a peasant like she thought. After Giselle's death, the second act of the ballet takes place by her grave where Hilarion the gamekeeper who was also in love with Giselle, grieves. It is here, that Hilarion encounters the Wilis, vengeful female spirits who rise from their graves at night and seek revenge against men by dancing them to death.

Giselle is then summoned out of her grave and invited to partake in the festivities. But when the Duke arrives he begs for forgiveness, which Giselle accepts. Hilarion however, is not so lucky as he chased by the Wilis and then thrown to his death in a nearby lake. Ultimately, Giselle's kind heart allows her to separate from the Wilis and sleep peacefully in her grave. But still, poor Hilarion huh?

Naturally this ballet has awesome written all over it. Vengeful spirits that take revenge on men by making them dance to their death? YES. Not to mention that Giselle rising from the grave invites gentle whispers of ZOMBIE. Well, ghost zombie I guess.

The Rite of Spring

Many recognize Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring as being the music for the dinosaur segment in Fantasia but it was actually first a ballet that filled the audience with horror because of how unconventional it was. Taking place in Pagan Russia, the Rite of Spring is something of a fertility ritual where a young virginal girl is sacrificed by being forced to dance to her death.

Clearly a central punishment in many ballets is this idea of dancing to your death. Which really is kind of the ultimate definition of my favorite kind of horror--something that is terrifyingly beautiful. It also speaks largely to that whole idea of being far too consumed by something you truly love. What if one day someone condemns me to eat sandwiches or play Zelda FOREVER? Well, I guess there could be worse things.


Heather Santrous said...

Very cool post! I learned a lot from it, and I hope you do more like this one.

Anonymous said...

The Red Shoes is a total and complete masterpiece! Also, most of the co-directors' (Powell & Pressburger) other movies are nearly as good, especially "Black Narcissus" -amazing!

deadlydolls said...

Love it! One of my favorite things about The Red Shoes--aside from it being absolutely awesome--is how it figures into A Chorus Line, where a bunch of characters cite it as the movie they saw as kids that made them want to dance. Now I LOVE that movie, but isn't it more propaganda to make kids NOT want to dance???

A good deal of my ballet knowledge comes from the Flowers In the Attic books, since Cathy was always talking about whatever ballet she dreamed of being in and such. Weird memories coming back now.

rbangert said...

Andre! I just now saw this post and it is soooo awesome! I danced as a Willi in Giselle this year and my absolute favorite moment was when we danced Hilarion to death! You rock!!

Andre Dumas said...

BOBO! : )

Ah, I shpuld have made note of my very favorite professional ballerina........Diane.

Just kidding, it's you!