Giselle - A Chronicle Of Love

By Haywood Hunter

As the story of Hamlet is to the theater, Giselle is to ballet. Historically significant, audiences see it time after time to experience its interpretation by new generations of ballerinas. Each time, they vow that they have seen something different that they had not picked up on before at a previous viewing.

A unique take on the theme of the love triangle, Giselle is the story of a young peasant country girl who perishes of a broken heart upon learning that the wealthy Albrecht, with whom she has fallen in love, was bethrothed to another woman. Hilarion, a commoner who is in love with the peasant girl, is seen mourning at her grave when he is surprised by the Wili, the ghosts of young women who had not lived to see their wedding days. They fill their nights for eternity by torturing men to death.

It is the normal practice of the Wilis to use their beauty to capture the attentions of young men and them force them to dance until dead. Hilarion, they chase relentlessly until they toss him to his death in a lake. Moving on to serve a similar fate to Albrecht, they are thwarted by the ghost of the peasant girl. She forgives Albrecht, who is spared by the Wilis at dawn when they return to their graves until the following evening. Giselle may now rest eternally in peace.

The ballet was first staged in Paris in June, 1841. The following year, it appeared in London in March of 1842. It was later presented in Russia, Italy and in America.

The role is a coveted one for young ballerinas. It requires grace and acting skills and is also demanding technically. Dramatist Theophile Gautier wrote it especially for his girlfriend, Carlotta Grisi. It has since been portrayed by Anna Pavlova, Svetlana Zakharova, Alicia Markova and many other accomplished ballet dancers.

It was Henrich Heine' tale of the Wilis that inspired Gautier, who imagined it as a ballet. He worked with the composer, Adolphe Adam and Jules Perot, choreographer.

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