Romantic ballet

 About the ballet «Giselle» 

«Giselle» ballet (full name “Giselle, or the Wilis”, French Giselle, ou les Wilis) maybe one of the most romantic work of the last centuries. Among the great amount of stories that were performed with the language of ballet, there was nothing more wonderful created. Due to the charm of them plot and perfect choreography this romantic masterpiece became the classic of the ballet and, alongside with the “Swan Lake”, became the most famous and popular ballet in the world.

It is «Giselle» where the ballet romanticism set foot. The dance in the «Giselle» gained poetic spirituality. Solo «fantastic» parts contained different flights that created the impression of ethereality of the characters. The female characters rose at the pointe-shoes. In the «real», non-fantastic forms the dance serves not just an illustration of the plot episodes but becomes a mean for expressing the art content.


The eternal story of love betrayal and penitence was presented for the first time on 28 June 1841 at the stage of Paris theatre Grand Opera that was called at that time Royal Academy of Music and Dance. The outstanding success of the first night determined the future of the ballet. During the next 18 years Paris Opera gave 150 performances of «Giselle» that finished with endless applauses of the spectators. This brought more and more popularity to the ballet.

We will never see how the great ballerina Carlotta Grisi danced. But we will never forget her because two other great persons – choreographer Jules Perrot and Théophile Gautier were in love with Carlotta and created «Giselle» for her. As the journalist wrote, this ballet was created by few men in love to «serve as a showcase for the talents of a young ballerina». The story of creating of this ballet was as interesting as the ballet libretto itself.

Ballerina Carlotta Grisi, whose real name was Caronne Adele Giuseppina Maria Grisi, was born in Italy in 1819. In 1834 in Naples Carlotta met talented and famous French dancer and choreographer Jules Perrot. Carlotta became Perrot’s protégé, he trained and taught her, staged her choreographic performances. Cartlotta started performing under the name of Madam Perrot. In 1837 Perrot left Grand Opera to promote Carlotta’s carrier and they started touring over the theatres of Europe.


Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova

The same time Adolphe Charles Adam, who was already a famous composer, returned to Paris from Petersburg where he went after the famous French dancer Maria Talioni who performed in Russia from 1837 to 1842. After finishing the ballet L’écumeur des mer for Talioni in Petersburg, Adam started working at the ballet «Giselle» in Paris.

The scenario was written by the French poet and novelistt Théophile Gautier based on the ancient Savic legend, reproduced by Heinrich Heine in his book “Of Germany”. The legend told about the Wilis – maids that died from unhappy love on the eve of their wedding. In the midnight the Wilis come from their graves and dance. When they meet an accidental passerby they drag him into dance round where the Wilis circle until he falls down in a dead faint.

To give a general character to the action Théophile Gautier consciously mixed the countries and titles. The ballet takes place in Thüringen, Albrecht is the Duke of Silesia (in the later variants of the libretto he is the Earl), and the father of the fiancé – Prince (in the late versions he is Duke) of Courland.

It is written that Théophile Gautier respected Jules Perrot and supported his candidature in participating in creating of the ballet. Maybe in some degree because Théophile Gautier was the husband of Carlotta Grisis’ sister -Ernesta. But he dedicated this ballet to Carlotta hoping to take corner in her heart. Théophile Gautier was in love with Carlotta and was writing libretto with «a soul of a poet in love». A famous librettist and skillful author of a lot of different librettos Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges in cooperation with Coralli, who became a ballet master of Grand Opera in 1831, were working at «Giselle».

Jules Perrot still loved Carlotta and did his best to make her a prime-ballerina with world fame.

The whole Gisele choreographic part was designed by Perrot but his name wasn’t even mentioned in the playbill of the Paris first night of the ballet. Coralli took all the fame using indefinite and «secret» status of the Perrot and took all the authorship of the ballet choreography. The success of the ballet was outstanding, the spectators were literary crying for the poor deceived girl. The critics claimed «Giselle» as the greatest ballet of its time. Carlotta Grisi became a star. Lucien Petipa, the younger brother of Marius Petipa, «the father» of the classic ballet, preformed the part of Earl Albrecht.

Today there are no doubts who is the author of the choreographic scenes of the ballet – a real genius Jules Perrot. Coralli only staged general dances.

Jules Perrot confirmed the ballet romanticism with the part of Giselle and ballet became a sovereign genre of art as music and poetry. He also achieved his dream – the success of the ballet and Carlotta Grisi immediately made her a world-famous star.

Soon after the first night Jules Perrot moved to England. The authors of historic ballet memoires expressed the idea that this step was made not due to the Coralli’s intrigues but the fact that Carlotta “granted a favor to Gautier in gratitude for the fame she achieved with his help” According to the other versions she had a fancy for a young and handsome Lucien Petipa.

No matter what the truth was and did the 21 -years old Carlotta betrayed one man for another, Julies Perrot remained her teacher and she was always prime-ballerina.
Anyway Jules Perrot staged all the ballets for Carlotta, excellent in choreography and successful.

All the newest achievements of the French Theatre were immediately imported to the Russian scene. “Giselle” was performed in Petersburg in 1842 a year after the Paris first night. Even now this ballet is a part of repertoire of many musical theatres.

Petersburg performance finished romantic ballet tendency of Europe when the ballet theatre was transforming to musical. Music became the determinative source of the sense of choreographic composition and not the literature scenario.

Y. Solominsky wrote in his monograph: “French “Gisele” is a sentimental drama about the unhappy love of grisette, peasant -there were great amount of such maids in those days. The misfortune of the main character is “a mischance”. Her feeling remain in memory as attractive and naive illusion” “Russian “Gisele” – is an elevated love drama. The love here is not an illusion, but a symbol of faith”.

In due time ballerinas with world names danced the part of Giselle: Anna Pavlova, Olga Spesivtseva, Elena Andreyanova, Vera Coralli, Galina Ulanova. Ulanova started a whole tradition performing not just a ballet part but a real straight part where not only the performing of choreographic elements but the actor talent of the ballerina is of significant value. And the great Cuban ballerina Alisiya Alonso was awarded with high title la bailarina absoluta for the performing of Gisele part.







Act I

The action takes place in Thuringen in Feudal Era.

Mountain settlement in Thuringen. The peasants are moving for vintaging.

The house of peasant Berthe, widow who lives here with her daughter Giselle.

The hunters – Earl Albrecht with his arm-bearer – appear on the stage. Albrecht outdistanced the other hunters to meet a peasant-girl whom he liked. Earl and his arm-bearer Wilfrid enter the hunter house and soon Albrecht leaves it in the peasant dress. Wilfrid tries to persuade Earl to refuse from his secret plans but the Earl disagrees. He points at the Giselle’s house – here lives the girl he is in love with.

Albrecht declares his love to Giselle. Half-joking Giselle expresses her mistrust to the Albrecht’s words. She picks a flower and tells fortune by tearing off the petals: “Loves – doesn’t love”. The petal says, “Doesn’t love”. Then Albrecht tears one petal behind her back and shows that the fortune telling was wrong.

Forester Hans interrupts the love scene. He saw Giselle with Earl and warns the girl. He also asks Giselle for love back. Anger Albrecht routs him out. Giselle’s friends appear. They surround her and start dancing. Albrecht watches Giselle with admiration, her hilarity and lively manners are beautiful.

Berthe, Giselle’s mother, leaves the house. She reminds the girl that she has an ill heart and shouldn’t dance. But nothing can scare Giselle, she is happy.
Suddenly, sounds of horn are heard. The hunters are coming closer. Albrecht leaves in a hurry as he doesn’t want to be recognized.

Albrecht’s fiancée Bathilde and her father and Duke of Courland come with the hunters. Giselle looks upon the sheen of the lady of high degree. Bathilde is charmed with the beauty and innocence of the peasant-girl. Bathilde gives Giselle a gold chain. Giselle accepts the gift with embarrassment and admiration.

The forester leaves through the window the hunters home where Albrecht redressed. He holds an expensive weapon in his hands as a proof of high origin of the person who infatuate Hans’ beloved Giselle.

Celebration begins, Albrecht is dancing with Giselle. Hans winds the horn. The hunters with the Duke and Bathilde come to the sound of horn. The members of retinue recognize the Duke and touch forelock to him and he noble guests greet him cordially.

Albrecht comes to Bathilde and kisses her hand. Giselle runs to her and tells that Albrecht plighted his troth to her and that he loves her. Indignant with Giselle’s words, Bathilde shows her engagement ring – it is she the Albrecht’s fiancée. Giselle throws Bathilde’s gift, the chain, to her feet and falls down.

Albrecht tries to explain himself to Giselle but she hears nothing. She loses her reason. Her muddy mind is full of scenes from recent past: fortune telling with the flower, oath, words of love, friends. She can’t bear the shock and dies.

Act II

     In the moonlight among the graves of the cemetery ghostly Wilis appear. “Dressed in wedding dresses covered with flowers… irresistibly beautiful the Wilis are dancing in the moonlight. They dance faster and with more passion as they feel that the time for dances passes away and they have to return back to their graves, cold as ice…” (H. Heine).

Hans comes here. He hears mystic sounds and sees flashes. Hans is scared and flees. A shadow rises at his way. It is Myrtha, the Queen of Wilis.

It seems the Wilis are floating in the moonlight. Myrtha gives a sign to surround Giselle’s grave to meet their new friend. Giselle’s ghostly figure rises from the grave.

Noise arises. The Wilis disappear. Albrecht comes to the cemetery. He is looking for Giselle’s grave. Albrecht is in brown study and sorrow. Suddenly he sees Giselle’s figure. He doesn’t believe his eyes and rushes to her. The phantom disappears than appears again and again dissolves into thin air.

The Wilis start to chase Albrecht and drag him into their dance. He falls down before Myrtha’s feet begging for escape. But Myrtha is implacable. Myrtha desires to kill Albrecht and drag him into the dance whirl. But Giselle comes and starts to dance instead of Albrecht to save him from death.

Clock bell rings. It is six o’clock in the morning, the dawn is rising. Wilis lose their power and disappear. Sounds of horn are heard. Servants, sent to find Albrecht, come.

Giselle shadow disappears, but she will always remain in Albrecht’s memory as an eternal regret about lost love, love that is stronger than death.