The world premiere of Giselle, one of the oldest continually performed ballet, occurred at the Theatre de l’Academie Royale de Musique in Paris on June 28, 1841, danced by Carlotta Grisi as Giselle and Lucien Petipa as Albrecht.
This ballet is in the repertoire of almost all of the major ballet companies in the world and was first presented by American Ballet Theatre (then Ballet Theatre) at the Center Theatre in New York City on January 12, 1940 with choreography by Anton Dolin and scenery and costumes by Lucinda Ballard. The leading roles were danced by Annabelle Lyon and Anton Dolin.
American Ballet Theatre’s second production of Giselle occurred on October 15, 1946 at the Broadway Theatre with choreography by Dimitri Romanoff and scenery and costumes by Eugene Berman. The leading roles were danced by Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch.
The third production of Giselle, directed by David Blair, received its first performance at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, Washington, D. C. on July 4, 1968 with scenery by Oliver Smith and costumes by Peter Hall. The leading roles were performed by Lupe Serrano as Giselle and Royes Fernandez as Albrecht. The production’s New York City premiere was given at the Metropolitan Opera House on July 10, 1968 with the same cast.
Using the Smith/Hall scenery and costumes, Mikhail Baryshnikov staged both the fourth and fifth productions of Giselle for ABT after choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa. The first premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC on December 16, 1980, with Marianna Tcherkassky as Giselle and Baryshnikov himself as Albrecht; while the second, which featured additional staging by John Taras and Elena Tchernichova, received its first performance at the Filene Theatre at Wolf Trap Farm in Vienna, Virginia on August 28, 1985, danced by Miss Tcherkassky and Fernando Bujones.
American Ballet Theatre’s sixth production featuring scenery by Gianni Quaranta and costumes by Anna Anni, was created for the film Dancers, produced in 1987 by Cannon Films. The film incorporates Giselle into its storyline. This production’s first public performance was given on March 20, 1987 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, with Miss Tcherkassky as Giselle and Kevin McKenzie as Albrecht.
The current staging is by Kevin McKenzie, using the Quaranta and Anni designs.
The villagers return, and Giselle invites them to join in a dance to celebrate the harvest. Her mother, Berthe, interrupts and warns her that her life may be endangered if she overexerts herself by dancing. She is struck by a momentary hallucination of her daughter in death. She sees her as a wili, a restless spirit who has died with her love unrequited.
A horn sounds in the distance, and Loys recognizes it as coming from the hunting party of the prince of Courland. As Loys hastily departs, Hilarion breaks into Loys’ cottage. Refreshments are served to the hunters, and the prince’s daughter, Bathilde, gives Giselle a gold necklace when she learns they are both engaged to be married. After the royal party has returned to the hunt, Hilarion emerges from Loys’ cottage with a hunting horn and a sword, further evidence that the supposed peasant is, in fact, a nobleman.
The villagers return and proclaim Giselle the queen of the Wine Festival. Hilarion interrupts to denounce Loys as an impostor. When Loys denies the charges and threatens the gamekeeper with his sword, Hilarion blows the hunting horn, a signal for the prince to return. Loys is exposed as an impostor when Bathilde reveals that he is her fiancé, Count Albrecht. The shock of learning of Albrecht’s duplicity is too great for Giselle’s frail constitution. Her mind becomes unhinged, and she dies of a broken heart—her love unrequited.
ACT II: The scene is laid in a clearing in the forest near Giselle’s grave. The wilis are summoned by their queen, Myrta, to attend the ceremonies that will initiate Giselle into their sisterhood. Their love unrequited, they can find no rest. Their spirits are forever destined to roam the earth from midnight to dawn, vengefully trapping any male who enters their domain and forcing him to dance to his death. Hilarion, in search of Giselle, meets his death at their hands. Albrecht arrives to leave flowers on Giselle’s grave. He too is trapped and commanded to dance until death. Giselle resolves to protect him. She dances with him until the clock strikes four, at which hour the wilis lose their power. Albrecht is rescued from death.