American Ballet Theatre opens its first New York Fall Season for two years with the gorgeous Romantic-era ballet Giselle. With choreography after Jules Perrot, Jean Coralli and Marius Petipa, Giselle – set to Adolphe Adam’s sumptuous score – is one of the oldest classical ballets continually performed by ballet companies around the world.
Regarded as the most famous of the Romantic era ballets, Giselle was the result of the collaboration of the three French artists – Ballet Masters Perrot and Coralli, and composer Adam. In 1841 the Ballet du Théâtre de l’Academie Royale de Musique was keen to feature a new Italian dancer, Carlotta Grisi, in a ballet, so Adam – who had previously composed for the company – and librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, were commissioned to create a vehicle for Grisi’s talent.
It was Gautier who initially started working on the story, drawing inspiration from two sources – the poem Fantômes from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales, which told of a Spanish girl who died after a night of frenzied dancing, and a passage in prose entitled L’Allemagne by German poet, writer and literary critic Heinrich Heine, about a Slavic tale of supernatural maidens called Wilis, young brides-to-be who die before their wedding day. Perrot and Coralli were brought in to choreograph the work, and Giselle premiered at the Théâtre de l’Academie Royale de Musique in Paris on 28th June, 1841, with Carlotta Grisi in the title role, French dancer Lucien Petipa (brother of Marius Petipa) as Albrecht and Adele Dumilatre as Myrtha.
In 1842, this version of Giselle was staged in St Petersburg, and this is where Marius Petipa became involved in the choreography. As Premier Maître de Ballet of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg from 1871, he staged four revivals of Giselle between 1884 and 1903, and it’s this final version on which most interpretations have since been based.
The ballet tells of a frail young peasant girl who is betrayed by her beloved, the aristocratic Count Albrecht, as a result of which she dies of a broken heart. Giselle finds herself in a moonlit glade surrounded by the supernatural Wilis and their queen, Myrtha. Albrecht enters the glade to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave, and is summoned by Myrtha and her Wilis to dance to his death. Giselle – ever forgiving, and touched by his exhaustion – pleads for mercy on his behalf, and Myrtha ultimately frees him from the vengeance of the Wilis.
American Ballet Theatre’s production of Giselle is staged by Kevin McKenzie with John Lanchberry’s orchestration of Adolphe Adam’s score. Scenery is by Gianni Quaranta, costumes by Anna Anni and lighting by Jennifer Tipton.
Performances take place at the David H Koch Theatre, New York, New York from October 20th to 31st. For further information on the 2021 Fall Season, visit the American Ballet Theatre website and tickets are available on this link.