John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Love, betrayal and forgiveness reign as The Washington Ballet takes on one of the world’s most beautiful and technically difficult ballets. From the time of its 1841 premiere in Paris, this dramatic and gorgeous ballet has inspired generations of dancers with its tale of a young peasant girl who has a passion for dancing and dies of a broken heart. One of Septime Webre’s all-time favorite classical ballets, Giselle has it all—romance, spirited peasant dances and ghostly spirits.
Wednesday October 30, 2013 at 7:30PM (Preview Night)
Thursday October 31, 2013 at 7:30PM (Opening Night)
Friday November 1, 2013 at 7:30PM
Saturday November 2, 2013 at 1:30PM & 7:30PM
Sunday November 3, 2013 at 1:30PM & 6:30PM
The Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater
2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20566
Cast A | Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday evenings
- Giselle: Maki Onuki
- Albrecht: Brooklyn Mack
- Hilarion: Jared Nelson
- Myrtha: Aurora Dickie
Cast B | Friday and Sunday evenings
- Giselle: Ayano Kimura
- Albrecht: Jonathan Jordan
- Hilarion: Corey Landolt
- Myrtha: Sona Kharatian
Cast C | Sunday matinee
- Giselle: Ekaterina Oleynik
- Albrecht: Hyun-Woong Kim
- Hilarion: Jared Nelson
- Myrtha: Morgann Rose
Cast D | Saturday matinee
- Giselle: Aurora Dickie
- Albrecht: Tamas Krisza
- Hilarion: Jared Nelson
- Myrtha: Kateryna Derechnya
*Casting subject to change
The Cast of Characters:
- Giselle: A sweet, innocent, beautiful peasant girl who loves to dance, but is forbidden to by her mother who fears for her health due to her weak heart
- Berthe: Giselle’s very protective Mother
- Albrecht: A Count who disguises himself as the peasant ‘Loys’ to woo Giselle
- Wilfrid: Albrecht’s Squire
- Hilarion: A peasant gamekeeper, who is in love with Giselle
- Bathilda: A princess engaged to Albrecht
- Myrtha: Queen of the vengeful, ghost-like Wilis (pronounced villees)
- Peasants, Royal visitors and the ghostly dancing Wilis
Setting: The Rhineland during the Middle Ages. In the early morning the villagers arrive in the glade outside Giselle's house and leave to work in the fields picking grapes. Hilarion, the village huntsman and a gamekeeper, who is also in love with Giselle, returns from his early morning chores and arrives at Giselle’s cottage bearing gifts for Giselle's mother, Berthe.
Count Albrecht, accompanied by his squire Wilfrid, arrives in the village. Albrecht is disguised as a peasant, whom the villagers have come to know as Loys. Albrecht has been captivated by the beautiful peasant maiden, Giselle, whose love of life and free spirit are expressed by her passion to dance, which is in contrast to the burdens of his life as a nobleman. Albrecht and Wilfrid retreat inside a cottage that neighbors Giselle's home.
The Count emerges from his cottage disguised. Wilfrid inspects his disguise and expresses some concern. Nonetheless, Albrecht dismisses him, and Wilfrid leaves reluctantly. Albrecht knocks on Giselle's door and when she comes out, he swears eternal love to her. She then performs the traditional daisy test, "he loves me, he loves me not." Hilarion interrupts protesting that he, not Loys, truly loves Giselle. A quarrel ensues and Albrecht instinctively reaches for his sword, which as a nobleman he is accustomed to wearing. This behavior strikes Hilarion as odd.
The villagers return, and Giselle invites them to join in a dance to celebrate the harvest. Berthe warns Giselle that her life may be endangered if she over exerts herself dancing because she has a weak heart. Berthe is struck by a 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 Wilfrid rushes in to warn Albrecht that the Prince of Courland and his hunting party are about to arrive. Hilarion witnesses this exchange and is puzzled by the deference the squire pays to Loys. As Wilfrid and Albrecht hastily depart, Hilarion breaks into Albrecht’s cottage.
The royal hunting party arrives led by the Prince of Courland and his daughter, Princess Bathilde. Giselle and Berthe offer them rest and refreshments. Bathilde is taken by Giselle’s charm and beauty, and Giselle is equally intrigued by her nobleness. The two confide in one another and learn that they are both engaged to be married. Bathilde presents Giselle with a gold medallion for her dowry. After the royal party leaves to return to the hunt, Hilarion emerges from Albrecht's cottage with a hunting horn and sword, evidence that Loys is actually a nobleman.
The villagers return and proclaim Giselle the Queen of the Harvest Festival. The harvest crown is passed from the present queen to Giselle. To express her gratitude to the villagers, Giselle dances for them, demonstrating the passion she has for dancing. Hilarion interrupts the festivities to denounce Loys as an impostor. Albrecht tries to deny these charges and threatens Hilarion with the sword. Hilarion blows the hunting horn, a signal for the Prince and the hunting party returns. Loys’ true identity as Count Albrecht is exposed when Bathilde reveals that he is her fiancé. The devastation of learning of Albrecht's duplicity is too much for Giselle's frail constitution. Losing her will to live, Giselle’s mind becomes unhinged, and she dies of a broken heart.
Setting: A moonlit glade near Giselle's grave. The scene opens with Hilarion beside Giselle’s grave mourning her death. After being frightened by unnatural occurrences, Hilarion flees into the forest.
Out of the mist the Wilis are summoned by their Queen, Myrtha, to attend the ceremonies that will initiate Giselle into their sisterhood. The Wilis are all maidens whose fiancés have failed to marry them before their death. With their love unrequited, their spirits are forever destined to roam the forest from midnight to dawn, vengefully trapping any male who enters their domain and forcing him to dance to his death. Hilarion reenters the clearing and is trapped by the vengeful Wilis. He is commanded to dance to his death.
Albrecht, who arrives to leave flowers on Giselle's grave, is also trapped and commanded to dance unto his death, however Giselle comes to his rescue. Propelled by her own passion to dance, she dances with him until dawn, at which hour the Wilis lose their power. Albrecht is saved from death. Giselle's power of true forgiveness and selfless efforts to protect Albrecht from death prevent her from being initiated into the vengeful sisterhood of the Wilis, allowing her to rest in peace for eternity.
Giselle: A Creation
Originally titled Giselle ou les Wilis, Giselle is different from other ballets of the Romantic era, not only for its plot, but also for the rich choreography of the ballet which is filled with solo and ensemble dances. But what’s interesting is that the creation of Giselle is almost as rich a story as the ballet itself.
During the Romantic era of the 19th century poets, novelists and artists became infatuated with the supernatural. Many ballets were created through the inspiration of these poems and novels, with plots that were dominated by spirit women in the form of sylphs, wilis and ghosts who control the hearts and senses of mortal men that made it impossible for them to live happily in the real world. The Romantic era is said to have begun in Paris in 1827 with the debut of ballerina Marie Taglioni in La Sylphide and declined after Coppelia in 1870. The Romantic era gave rise to the “ballerina” including the development of pointe work and the idea of weightlessness. This was characterized by soft, rounded arms and a forward tilt in the upper body, giving the dancer a flowery, willowy look. The era gave way to the Romantic tutu; a full white skirt and bodice which represent the spiritual realm and are typically seen in the second acts. This led to the terms “white act” or “ballet-blanc.” The contrast between the difficult reality of the existent world and the imagined world in which love has an undying strength is the main idea of Giselle.
The inspiration for French poet, author and critic, Théophile Gautier’s effective libretto rises from two ghost stories – Victor Hugo’s poem “Phantoms” about a young girl whose love for dancing leads to her demise, and a passage in Heinrich Heine’s On Germany, about wilis or “young brides-to-be who die before their wedding day. The poor creatures cannot rest peacefully in their graves” and rise at midnight to dance beguilingly in the moonlight. Gautier turned to Jules-Henri Vernoy, Marquis de Saint-Georges to perfect the theatrical rendition of his tale. In three days Gautier and Saint-Georges finished the libretto that has remained unchanged and is often referred to as the perfect Romantic ballet.
Gautier wanted Carlotta Grisi for the title role. For him, she combined the poetry of Marie Taglioni with the fire and spunk of Fanny Elssler. Gautier showed the libretto to ballet teacher Jules Perrot, who was also Grisi's common law wife, who agreed it would be an ideal vehicle for Grisi.
Perrot in turn took it to the composer Adolphe Adam who showed it to the director of the Paris Opéra, Léon Pillet, who approved the libretto for Giselle. According to Adam’s memoirs, “I composed the music in high spirits. I was in a hurry and that always fires my imagination. I was very friendly with Perrot (Jules Perrot) and Carlotta (Grisi), and the piece evolved, as it were, in my drawing-room.”
At the time Giselle was created it was unusual for ballet scores to provide more than a general background for the scenes. Adam’s score stood out for the exceptional reason that it was thoroughly composed instead of being a pastiche typical of many ballets created in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This difference can be recognized from the beginning of the ballet when Albrecht and Giselle’s themes mesh into a love theme when Giselle plucks a flower in the first act. Hilarion also has his own short leitmotif, and the Wilis’ theme, although more prominent in the second act, can be heard in the first act when Berthe tells their legend.
Jean Coralli, senior ballet master of the Paris Opéra, was put in charge of the production, although Perrot was allowed to arrange Grisi's parts. Perrot received no credit on either programs or posters for his contributions, probably for financial reasons. A reviewer in Revue Dramatique in 1841 wrote, "One must add that although the playbill makes no mention of it, M. Perrot arranged all his wife's dances himself and is thus author of a large part of this ballet." It now appears that not only the dances of Giselle, but also the mad scene and the dance of Hilarion and the Wilis were also the work of Perrot.
The ballet premiered on June 28, 1841 at the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris with Carlotta Grisi as Giselle, Lucien Petipa as Albrecht and Jean Coralli as Hilarion. The ballet was a success on all levels, gaining critical and public acclaim for the choreography, music, designs and the dancing most of all.
In 1842, Giselle was presented in England at Her Majesty’s Theatre and in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1843 the ballet debuted in Italy, and in 1846 the production came to America. Within two years of Giselle’s premiere in Paris, the ballet was presented in almost every ballet company in the world and was recognized as an exceptional ballet. The success of Giselle made Perrot and Coralli some the top choreographers in Europe and brought glory to Carlotta Grisi.
The Washington Ballet premiered this classic in 2004. In their re-staging, Septime Webre and South African ballet artist, Charla Genn, have used “profoundly lyrical, time–tested choreography” to produce an “earnest, traditional Giselle,” wrote The Washington Post..
Giselle: A Creation Continued
Giselle offers audiences an escape into a world of mystery, beauty and danger with a story that stirs poetic, as well as matter-of-fact, imaginations. However, the first production of Giselle incorporated elements rarely seen in today’s stagings. These include a mime scene in which Giselle tells Loys (Albrecht in disguise) that she dreamt he was in love with a beautiful noblewoman, the Prince of Courland and Bathilde arriving on horseback, and a large procession of the vine gatherers in Act I. Also missing today is an encounter between the peasants and the Wilis, Albrecht witnessing the death of Hilarion, and Bathilde returning to reclaim Albrecht at the end. The original production actually had 45 minutes of mime and only 60 minutes of dancing—a ratio which has changed dramatically in modern productions.
Likewise the original Act I solo for Giselle looked very different. Giselle’s one-legged hops on pointe (balloné en pointe) that we associate with her solo, requires the use of blocked pointe shoes which were not developed at that time of the premiere. Carlotta Grisi would have worn a slipper that was little more than a thin layer of satin secured with ribbons at the ankle.
Additionally Théophile Gautier (librettist) thought Giselle should die from a self-inflicted wound from Albrecht's sword. But in Russia suicide was thought unsuitable, so Marius Petipa settled for death by the effects of shock and sorrow on a weak heart in his revisions. This device has stayed in most contemporary productions even though many healthy looking ballerinas do not look in danger of dying from a weak heart.
It is inevitable that over the years the choreography has been changed due to the oral tradition by which choreography was then passed on. Preservation of the ballet to this day comes from Russia, not France. Many productions of Giselle rely on the revisions made by Marius Petipa, whose version was better documented than the Paris original. Also in Russia, the ballet was in continual production, as compared to France where it was not part of the Paris Opéra repertoire for 56 years.
Looking at the mime scenes in Act I alone, which range from the stilted exchanges of Hilarion and Albrecht, with no hint of dance, to the integrated and emotional intricacies of the mad scene, it is obvious that the work is the creation of more than one person. The choreography echoes the strong lead set by the music with its use of leitmotivs (musical phrases for a character). There are also examples of choreographic leitmotivs, including pas de basque (Basque steps) for Giselle, ballottées (tossed) followed by a jeté en avant (jeté forward) for Giselle and Albrecht together, the picking of flower petals, and the extensive use of arabesque began by Myrtha and imitated by the Wilis in Act II.
Giselle remained in repertoire at Paris Opéra until 1849. It was revived in 1852 and again in 1863 for Russian ballerina Martha Muravieva. However, in 1868 Giselle was dropped from the repertoire and was not revived again until 1924.
The first Russian performance came in St. Petersburg in 1842 and was staged by Antoine Titus who relied solely on his memory of seeing the ballet in Paris. In 1848 Jules Perrot arrived in St. Petersburg as ballet master and mounted a version of Giselle, which is often considered the fulfillment of his original concept. Marius Petipa, the great Russian choreographer, danced the role of Albrecht in this production. In 1850 Petipa remounted the production under Perrot's supervision. Over the next 40 years, as Italian virtuoso ballerinas began making headlines in Russia and technical demands for the role increased, Petipa made his own revisions in 1884, 1887 and 1899. Eventually, the Perrot original was discarded and the Petipa revisions, or what is now consider the standard variation for Act I Giselle, was established.
Giselle was seen again in Paris in 1910 at the Ballets Russes with Tamara Karsavina as Giselle and Vaslav Nijinsky as Albrecht. One year later Nijinsky caused a scandal in Russia when he refused to wear shorts over his tights in Giselle as was custom. This act of disobedience (some say engineered by Sergei Diaghilev, founder of Paris’ Ballets Russes) caused Nijinsky and the Mariinsky to part ways permanently. The 1924 Paris Opéra revival was staged by Nikolai Sergeyev based on notations he made while régisseur (stage manager) of the Russian Imperial Theatres.
And, the variations continue with perhaps two of the most interesting interpretations of Gisellebeing the 1984 Dance Theatre of Harlem production of a "Creole" Giselle set in the bayou region of Louisiana and a 1990 contemporary Mat Ek production for Cullberg Ballet in which Act II takes place in an insane asylum with Myrtha as a nurse and the Wilis as white-gowned patients.
The role of Giselle is one of the most sought-after parts in ballet. Sheer dancing ability is simply not enough. In Act I a ballerina has to convey the innocence and love of a country girl and the heartbreak and ‘madness’ of being betrayed. In Act II Giselle must seem otherworldly, yet loving. Some of the most accomplished dancers to perform this role include Carlotta Grisi (for whom Théophile Gautier created the role), Anna Pavlova, Alicia Markova, Alicia Alonso, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland and more. Famous Albrechts include Lucien Petipa (first dancer of the role), Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and others.
Giselle, which premiered 172 years ago, continues to resonate with audiences today because of its unique combination of poignant story, glorious music and its rare and masterful choreography. Even George Balanchine, who wrote, “Like Hamlet, Giselle is a classic: it is not only important historically, it also happens to be good (…) People go to see Giselle and to see ballerinas dance it for the same reason we go to see new interpretations of Hamlet: the work is such a good one that we always discover something in it we hadn’t seen before…,” was a fan.
The Washington Ballet’s production was originally staged by TWB’s Septime Webre and New York-based ballet specialist, Charla Genn, for the company’s 2004 premiere. Their production uses “profoundly lyrical, time-tested choreography” which produced an “earnest, traditional Giselle,” wrote The Washington Post. Dance Magazine wrote [The Washington Ballet], “performed with precision, beauty and panache” and that “Giselle is a triumph.”
Giselle opens the 2013.2014 season with a preview on October 30 and runs October 31 through November 3, 2013 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater.