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Giselle, ou Les Wilis is a romantic classical ballet first staged in 1841. It is a two-act ballet with music by Adolphe Adam and became popular in the US, Europe, and Russia.
The first performance was by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique in Paris. Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi graced the stage as Giselle.
Librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier wrote the plot. They were inspired by a passage about the Wilis in De l'Allemagne by Heinrich Heine and a poem titled Fantômes in Les Orientales by Victor Hugo.
The initial choreography was done by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. The ballet was created for Carlotta Grisi’s debut performance in Paris.
The show turned out to be a huge success, and she pursued dance as Giselle in Paris for many years afterwards. Anna Pavlova danced the ballet as Giselle in 1931.
Giselle Ballet’s Plot
The first act is set in the German countryside in autumn. Giselle is a young peasant girl with a weak heart and a love for dance. She is pursued by the Count of Silesia, Albrecht, disguised as a peasant.
Though she initially denies his attention, she grows to love him. The gatekeeper is suspicious and warns her about Albrecht, but Giselle doesn’t pay heed.
The Duke of Courland and his daughter Bathilde visit the village. Bathilde is already engaged to Albrecht, and when his true identity s revealed, Giselle tries to kill herself. She goes into a frenzy when her plan fails. However, her weak heart gives up and leaves her dead.
The second act occurs between midnight and dawn. The Wilis of the forest and their leader Queen Myrtha work to avenge the death of women betrayed in love. They force a man who enters their territory to dance with them until he drops dead.
However, Giselle pleads with Queen Myrtha to forgive Albrecht. The Queen denies the request and asks the Wilis to carry him away. Giselle (her ghost) manages to keep him awake till dawn, thus saving his life.
First Performance and Development
The French Revolution led to a new trend of supernatural ballets as preferred by the middle-class audience.
Théophile Gautier started with the plot for the ballet and roped in Vernoy de St. Georges, who already had more experience writing for ballets. Together, they came up with the plot in three days.
Giselle has been a commercial success ever since.