Traditional after Coralli, Perrot and Adam
Perhaps the most cherished of all 19th-century ballets, Giselle, created in 1841, has never lost its preeminence in the repertory. One reason among many: Every ballerina wants to dance it! And just about every great ballerina in history has danced it – from Pavlova to Ulanova, Fonteyn, Alonso, Kirkland, Makarova, and so many more.
And why not? In Act One the ballerina gets to be a naïve, loving peasant girl who is betrayed by Albrecht, her aristocrat lover, and has a harrowing mad scene before dying. In Act Two she’s a ghostly Wili, raised from her tomb to join her spectral sisters in driving inconstant men to their death — only to defy the Wilis and use the power of her love to save Albrecht from his doom. Act One demands earthly romantic charm and dramatic intensity; Act Two demands incorporeal purity concealing steely classical technique.
A deep theme that binds the two acts together: the power of dance itself. Giselle is a girl who simply loves to dance but is constantly restrained by her mother’s concern about her weak heart – the heart that gives out at the climax of Act One. And in Act Two, the faithless men are forced by Myrthe, the implacable Queen of the Wilis, to dance on and on until they die.
Giselle, with its own wonderful score by Adolphe Adam, is the ultimate dance statement about the centrality of dance to life.