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Repertoire Spotlight: Giselle

A Beginner’s Guide to Giselle

Choreographer: Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot

Composer: Adolphe Adam

Story: Inspired by a prose passage about the Wilis in De l'Allemagne, by Heinrich Heine, and from a poem called "Fantômes" in Les Orientales by Victor Hugo.

Premiere: 1841, Paris Opera Theatre, Paris

Quick Facts:

1. Giselle is a romantic ballet, characterized by the large role that spirit women play in the ballet (ghosts, sylphs, etc) with their long tutus.

2. Act II of Giselle is considered a ballet blanc: a "white" ballet in which all the female dancers are dressed in full, white, bell-shaped skirts and the dances have a geometric design.

3.Like most ballets of the Romantic period, Giselle debuted in France.


After the success of a new type of ballet La Sylphide in Paris 1832, Giselle emerged from this influence with similar costumes and plot themes about everyday people and supernatural women. Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot choreographed the original version of Giselle with focus on a few key steps, especially for the second act, to allow for maximum expression and artistry of the dancers. When Giselle first premiered in Paris, it was an instant success and quickly spread throughout Europe. Giselle is one of the most popular ballets to perform today.


ACT I: Duke Albrecht has fallen in love with beautiful peasant girl Giselle, despite being betrothed to Bathilde, the daughter of another Duke. Albrecht disguises himself as a villager named "Loys" in order to romance Giselle, who doesn’t know his true identity. Hilarion, a local gamekeeper, has also fallen in love with Giselle and is suspicious of Loys who has won Giselle’s affections. He tries to convince Giselle that Loys cannot be trusted, as she has a fragile heart. Giselle’s mother also thinks Hilarion is a better match and discourages her love of dancing due to her weak heart. During the harvest festivities, Albrecht’s true identity is revealed when he is found out by Hilarion and recognized by Bathilde accompanied by a party of nobleman. Giselle is shocked by his betrayal and goes mad from learning of his deception. She suddenly dies of heartbreak in Albrecht’s arms.

The Royal Ballet's Giselle in Act I
Giselle & Albrecht in American Ballet Theatre's production of Giselle.

ACT II: Hilarion goes to visit Giselle’s grave late at night but is chased away by the Wilis – ghostly spirits of maidens betrayed by their lovers. The Wilis, led by their Queen Myrtha, dance and haunt the forest at night to exact their revenge on any man they encounter, forcing their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion. The Wilis summon Giselle from her grave to join them. Albrecht goes to visit Giselle’s grave and is greeted by Giselle’s spirit. He begs her for forgiveness. Still in love with Albrecht, Giselle forgives him before joining the other Wilis. Meanwhile, the Wilis have encountered Hilarion and force him to dance to his death. Then, the Wilis find Albrecht and sentence him to the same fate. Giselle pleads with Myrtha to let him live, but Myrtha coldly refuses and commands him to dance until sunrise. However, Giselle’s love overpowers the Wilis hatred and Albrecht’s life is spared. As Giselle parts with Albrecht, she returns to her grave to rest in peace.


Don't forget to sign up for our new Ballet Repertoire term starting in April!

This class take place over the course of 10 weeks.

Dancers will learn excerpts of choreography from Giselle!

** Existing TBA students to receive 10% off term fees!! **


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