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If you’ve ever used the expression “That gives me the wilis,” do you know what you’ve actually said? Or maybe, more likely, what your grandmother said? “The wilis” is not a synonym for “the creeps.” According to a Slavic legend, a wili is the ghost of a virgin who dies before her wedding day. At night, wilis rise from graveyards dressed in wedding gowns to seduce young men who pass by. It was this legend of the wilis, as codified by the 18th-century German poet Heinrich Heine, that inspired the 1841 ballet Giselle. When the now-classic premiered in Paris, the story of a peasant girl who dies after being wooed by a traitorous duke embodied everything everyone loved about Romanticism. And today, well, we still love Romanticism. The Paris Opera Ballet brings Giselle to the Kennedy Center this week on a rare overseas tour. New York audiences also have a chance to see the famed company perform contemporary works, including Pina Bausch’s Orpheus and Eurydice. What about Washington? We just get the wilis, but what a beguiling troupe of wilis the Parisian dancers should be.
The Paris Opera Ballet performs tonight through Sun., July 8 at the Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. $29–$150. kennedy-center.org. (202) 467-4600.