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Nevertheless, from the author’s and audience’s point of view, the outcome, although sad, is also euphoric, for Giselle does elude the society of the Wilis and finds peace, while Albrecht survives on earth. And in this sense, their “marriage” does not fail, but actually succeeds—although it only lasts one night. The consummation of that marriage is spiritual, not physical; it is their act of dancing together tenderly while ultimately resisting Myrtha’s thrall. Perhaps this complexity of the marriage plot and the oscillation of affect in Giselle partly accounts for the ballet’s longevity.

As I have shown, despite its flirtations with rebellion and its anxieties about social order, the Romantic ballet largely upheld a bourgeois ethos regarding women’s roles, women’s sexuality, and the institution of marriage. But by the end of the Second Empire in 1870, when Coppélia was created, both the political and cultural climates had changed drastically. And so had the ballet stage. Coppélia marked the end of an era—the conspicuously frivolous Second Empire of Napoleon III. Members of the corps de ballet lifted their skirts to sneak cancan steps into their appointed roles.

And so had the ballet stage. Coppélia marked the end of an era—the conspicuously frivolous Second Empire of Napoleon III. Members of the corps de ballet lifted their skirts to sneak cancan steps into their appointed roles. And after the performances, dandies gathered backstage in the Foyer de la Danse to toast and seduce the ballet girls, in a manner even more flagrant than during the 1830s and 40s. Contemporary observers depict “the man of fashion” in the audience as interested only in the dancer’s body, not in the dance.

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