Giselle is considered to be the quintessential romantic ballet. It beautifully combines music, story, dance, costuming and scenery. It was first performed at the height of the period in 1841 at the Paris Opera.
The music was composed by Adolphe Adam (best known for his Christmas Carol, “O Holy Night”). The story was taken from a story by the poet Heinrich Heine and was turned into a libretto by Théophile Gautier and Jules-Henry Vernoy de Saint-Georges.
The story of Giselle is about a young peasant girl who falls in love with a young man. When she finds out he is really Albretch, Count of Silesia, and is about to be married she dies of shock. The second act is at Giselle’s grave and contains the Wilis or vampires. The Wilis are spirit women who lead men to the graveyard to their destruction. When Albretch comes to place flowers on Giselle’s grave the Wilis try to dance him to death. Giselle’s spirit protects him and drives the Wilis away.
The first production was choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot and it was a major success. It showcased Carlotta Grisi as Giselle. She is the ballerina thought to be the first to dance in boxed pointe shoes. Although they were not yet sold commercially. This role made Grisi famous. Ballerinas that attempt this role must be not only technically amazing but also great actresses. Giselle is very innocent in the first act and then ghostlike in the second act.
In 1903 Marius Petipa staged a new version of Giselle. He altered the choreography for the popular ballerina Anna Pavlova.