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Giselle, ou Les Wilis is a ballet in two acts with a libretto by Jules-Henrri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, music by Adolphe Adam, and choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. The librettist took his inspiration from a poem by Heinrich Heine. The ballet tells the story of a peasant girl named Giselle who protects her lover from the vengeance of a group of evil female spirits called the Wilis. Giselle was first presented by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, Francemarker, on 28 June 1841. The choreography in modern productions generally derives from the revivals of Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet (1884, 1899, 1903).

Libretto

The pervasive atmosphere of the ballet was indebted to the works of Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, and the ballet critic Théophile Gautier. The librettist Verney de Saint-Georges had first been attracted to Hugo's Orientales with its evocation of a ballroom where dancers were condemned to dance all night, and to Heine's De l'Allemagne and its depiction of the Wilis, Slavonic supernatural beings who lured young men to death by dancing. The notion may have been based on St. Vitus's dance, the dancing mania of the Middle Ages.

Plot summary

The ballet is set in the Rhineland of the Middle Ages during the grape harvest. When the curtain rises on the first act, the cottage of Giselle and her mother Berthe is seen on one side, and opposite is seen the cottage of Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a nobleman who has disguised himself as a peasant named Loys in order to sow a few wild oats before his marriage to Bathilde, the daughter of the Prince of Houston. Against the advice of his squire Wilfrid, Albrecht flirts with a peasant girl named Giselle who falls completely in love with him. Hilarion, a gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle and warns the girl against trusting the stranger, but Giselle refuses to listen. A love duet for Giselle and Loys is danced, with Giselle picking the petals from a daisy to divine her lover's sincerity. The couple are interrupted by Giselle's mother, who, worried about her daughter's fragile health, ushers the girl into the cottage.

Horns are heard in the distance and Loys retreats from the scene. A hunting party enters and refreshments are served. Among the hunters are Bathilde and her father. Giselle returns to the scene, dances for the party, and receives a necklace from Bathilde. When the party departs, Loys reappears with the grape harvesters. A celebration begins. Giselle and the harvesters dance but the merriment is brought to a halt by Hilarion who, having investigated the Duke's cottage now brandishes the nobleman's horn and sword. The horn is sounded, and the hunting party returns. The truth about Loys is learned and Giselle runs mad and dies. Originally, Giselle was meant to take Albrecht's sword and kill herself, yet, for some unknown reason, her death is generally performed today as the result of an intense shock.

The second act is set in a moonlit glade near Giselle's grave. Albrecht is grieving Giselle's untimely death. He is frightened from the glade by the Wilis, female spirits who, jilted before their wedding day, rise from their graves at night and seek revenge upon men by dancing them to death. Giselle is summoned from her grave and welcomed by the supernatural creatures who then quickly disappear. Albrecht enters searching for Giselle's grave, and she appears before him. He begs forgiveness. Giselle, her love undiminished, readily forgives him and the two dance. The scene ends with Albrecht in pursuit of Giselle as she disappears into the forest.

Hilarion enters pursued by the Wilis who throw him to his death in a nearby lake. The Wilis then surround Albrecht and sentence him to death. He begs to be spared but Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis refuses. Giselle protects him from the Wilis when they force him to dance. Day breaks and the Wilis retreat to their graves, but Giselle's love has saved Albrecht. By not succumbing to feelings of vengeance and hatred that define the Wilis, Giselle is freed from any association with them, and returns to her grave to rest in peace.

Performance history

The ballet was first presented at the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique in Paris on 28 June 1841 with Carlotta Grisi as Giselle, Lucien Petipa as Albrecht, and Jean Coralli as Hilarion. Scenery was designed by Pierre Ciceri and costumes by Paul Lormier. On 12 March 1842, the ballet was first presented in England at Her Majesty's Theatre, London with Carlotta Grisi and Jules Perrot in the principal roles, and, on 30 December of the same year, the ballet was first presented in St. Petersburgmarker at the Bolshoi Theatre with Elena Andreyanova as Giselle. In Italy, it was first presented in Milan at Teatro alla Scalla on 17 January 1843 with choreography by A. Cortesi and music by N. Bajetti. In the United States, the ballet premiered at the Howard Atheneum, Boston on January 1, 1846 with Mary Ann Lee and George Washington Smith in the principal roles.

The version passed down to the present day was staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet (today the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet). Petipa staged his definitive revival of Giselle in 1884 for the Ballerina Maria Gorshenkova, but made his final touches to the work for Anna Pavlova's debut in 1903. It is said that the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet still dance the ballet in Petipa's original design nearly unchanged. Petipa's final work on Giselle was notated in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation around the turn of the 20th century, and is today held as part of the famous Sergeyev Collection in the Harvard University Library Theatre Collectionmarker.

Giselle passed out of the repertory of the old Paris Opéra in 1867, and did not return to the western stage until Petipa's definitive version was performed by the Ballets Russes in 1910 at the Palais Garniermarker.

The role of Giselle is one of the most sought-after in ballet, as it demands both technical perfection and outstanding grace and lyricism, as well as great dramatic skill. In the first act Giselle has to convey the innocence and love of a country girl, the heartbreak of being betrayed. In the second act Giselle must seem otherworldly, yet loving. Some of the most accomplished dancers to perform this role include Carlotta Grisi (for whom Théophile Gautier created the role), Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spesivtseva, Galina Ulanova, Alicia Markova, Alicia Alonso, Chan Hon Goh, Beryl Goldwyn, Karen Kain, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, Irina Kolpakova, Ekaterina Maximova, Natalya Bessmertnova, Carla Fracci, Margaret Barbieri, Altynai Asylmuratova, Alessandra Ferri, Viviana Durante, Eva Evdokimova, Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, Alina Cojocaru and Nina Ananiashvili. Famous Albrechts include Lucien Petipa (creator of the role), Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Erik Bruhn, Mikhail Lavrovsky, Vladimir Vassiliev, Sir Anton Dolin Vladimir Malakhov, Vladimir Muravlev. Julie Kent (American Ballet Theatre).

Résumé of scenes and dances

Act I

  • no.1 Introduction
  • no.2 Scène première
  • no.3 Entrée d'Albrecht
  • no.4 Entrée de Giselle
  • no.5 Scène dansante
  • interpolation - Pas de deux pour Mlle. Maria Gorshenkova (Ludwig Minkus; 1884; this piece was only included in Imperial-era productions)
  • no.6 Scène d'Hilarion
  • no.7 Retour de la vendange
  • interpolation - Pas de cinq pour Mlle. Carlotta Grisi (Cesare Pugni; 1850; only included for Grisi's performance)
  • no.8 Valse
  • no.9 Scène dansante
  • no.10 Le récit de Berthe
  • no.11 Scène: Le chasse royale
  • no.12 Scène d'Hilarion
  • no.13 Marche des vignerons
  • interpolation - Variaton pour Mlle. Elena Cornalba (aka Pas seul) (likely composed by Riccardo Drigo, c. 1888)
  • interpolation - Pas de deux pour Mlle. Nathalie Fitzjames (aka Peasant pas de deux)
:Fashioned from Souvenirs de Ratisbonne by Friedrich Burgmüller, c.1841 –
:a. Entrée
:b. Andante
:c. Variation
:d. Variation
:interpolation - supplemental female variation (Mariinsky Theatre staging) (Riccardo Drigo?; from the ballet Cupid's Prank; 1890.)
:e. Variation
:f. Coda
  • no.14 Galop générale
  • no.15 Grand scène dramatique: La folie de Giselle


Act II

  • no.16 Introduction et scène
  • no.17 Entrée et danse de Myrthe
  • no.18 Entrée des Wilis
  • no.19 Grand pas des Wilis
  • no.20 Entrée de Giselle
  • no.21 Entrée d'Albrecht
  • no.22 L'apparition de Giselle
  • no.23 La mort d'Hilarion
  • no.24 Scène des Wilis
  • no.25 Grand pas d'action
:a. Grand adage
:b. Variation de Giselle
:c. Variation d'Albert
:interpolation - Variation pour Mlle. Adèle Grantzow (likely composed by Cesare Pugni; 1867)
:d. Coda
  • no.26 Scène finale


Gallery

Image:AnnaPavlovaAsGiselle.jpg|
Anna Pavlova as Giselle in Act I (ca. 1900)
Image:xiomara_reyes_Giselle06.jpg|Ballerina Xiomara Reyes as Giselle in Act II (2006)Image:Myrta.jpg|Adèle Dumilâtre as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Colored lithograph, 1843Image:Ulanova.jpg|Famous Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova, as GiselleImage:Оксана Кузьменко кадр 2.jpg|Oxana Kuzmenko

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