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Ballet Essentials: Giselle

A quick guide to the quintessential Romantic ballet.

By Rachel Thomas (Content Producer (Ballet))

16 January 2014 at 10.56am | 2 Comments

The Story Begins…

When Giselle, a gentle young peasant girl, falls in love with simple villager Loys her mother is instinctively suspicious. Hoping that she can persuade her daughter to marry the forester Hilarion, she warns Giselle off Loys and invokes the legend of the Wilis – ghosts of jilted young girls who die before their wedding day. But will Giselle heed her mother’s advice?

‘Wouldn’t this make a pretty ballet?’

Poet Théophile Gautier took inspiration for Giselle from Heinrich Heine’s book Über Deutschland. Charmed by Heine’s description of a mist softened by German moonlight, and ‘snow-coloured Wilis who waltz pitilessly’, Gautier, with the assistance of dramatist Vernoy de Saint-Georges, devised a scenario to be realized by choreographers Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.

Casting a Spell

Giselle is the most influential of all Romantic ballets and has remained firmly at the centre of the classical repertory since its premiere in Paris in 1841. Peter Wright’s production for The Royal Ballet has received more than 550 performances since its premiere in 1985. It casts a spell over audiences with its themes of enduring love and supernatural forces, heightened by Wright’s sensitive staging and atmospheric designs by John Macfarlane.

Adam and his Score

Astonishingly, Adolphe Adam wrote his score for Giselle in under month. The result is a perfect evocation of the atmosphere of the forest, the strong emotions of the characters and the ghostly world of the Wilis. It is the earliest ballet still performed for which the composer used a structure of musical leitmotifs, where individual characters and themes are represented by recurring musical phrases

From the Human to the Supernatural

Encompassing innocence, pain and boundless compassion, the role of Giselle is a daunting technical test and a unique acting challenge. Act I ranges from her early youthful abandon to the concluding devastating mad scene, while the hypnotic corps de ballet scenes in the otherworldly White Act provides a stunning showcase not only for Giselle but for a host of leading dancers and the entire Company.

Giselle runs from 18 January to 10 February 2014. Tickets are now sold out, except for returns and day tickets, but there will be a live cinema broadcast worldwide on 27 January 2014. Find your nearest cinema.

The production is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Celia Blakey and the Jean Sainsbury Royal Opera House Fund.

By Rachel Thomas (Content Producer (Ballet))

16 January 2014 at 10.56am

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Adolphe Adam, background, by Peter Wright, giselle, Henrich Heine, Production, Romantic, supernatural, The Royal Ballet, Theophile Gautier, White Act

This article has 2 comments

  1. The dress rehearsal of Giselle was just beautiful from the scenery and lighting to the dancing and music.

  2. Patrick Hogan responded on 17 January 2014 at 6:48pm Reply

    Fairy footed Giselle today on point. The rhytmic sound of thirty two ballerinas hopping elegantly back and forth across the stage.

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