Ballet Stories: Giselle

Ballet Stories: Giselle

Giselle is a two-act classical ballet. It was first choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot to the Adolphe Adam’s music and premiered in 1841 by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique (now Paris Opera Ballet) in Paris.


A young nobleman, Albrecht, arrived at a German Rhineland village disguised as a villager, calling himself Loy. He met Giselle, a beautiful peasant girl and quickly became infatuated with her. However, rather than telling Giselle his true identity, he courted Giselle while pretending to be a villager. Giselle fell in love with Albrecht.

But Albrecht was not the only one who liked Giselle. Hilarion, a gamekeeper, had been in love with Giselle for a very long time. However, Giselle did not share the same romantic feelings with Hilarion and rejected him.

The villagers celebrated the harvest. As Giselle had a weak heart, Giselle’s mother, Berthe, was worried that Giselle’s heart would not be able to withstand all the dancing. Berthe told the story of Wilis, young brides who died before their wedding day and had risen from their graves to kill men who went nearby.

The sound of hunting could be heard from a distance. Albrecht, afraid that his identity would be revealed, retreated.

A hunting party arrived, led by the Duke of Courland and his daughter Bathilde. The villagers shared food and drinks with the hunting party. Giselle complemented Bathilde’s outfit. Bathilde asked if Giselle had a lover and Giselle said she was engaged. Bathilde told Giselle that she was also engaged. Bathilde gifted Giselle her necklace, and Giselle danced for her with joy. The hunting party went to rest.

Meanwhile, Hilarion discovered that Albrecht was actually a nobleman and wanted to uncover Albrecht’s true identity to Giselle.

When villagers and Albrecht was dancing and celebrating the harvest, Hilarion arrived revealing Albrecht’s true identity. The hunting party came to the celebrations and Giselle found out that Albrecht and Bathilde were actually engaged.

Giselle, feeling betrayed, descended into madness and died of heartbreak.

Giselle was buried in a grave in a forest – the forest where the Wilis gathered.

At night, Myrtha, the Queen of Wilis appeared. She summoned the Wilis, who were spirit-like beings, and inaugurated Giselle as a Wili.

Albrecht came to mourn at Giselle’s grave. Hilarion also separately came to grieve for Giselle, but was found by the Wilis and was made to dance till he died of exhaustion.

Myrtha ordered that Albrecht must also dance until he dies of exhaustion. Despite having been betrayed by Albrecht, Giselle forgave him. Giselle pleaded for Myrtha to spare him. Myrtha refused.

Albrecht and Giselle danced and danced until Albrecht collapsed from exhaustion.

The first light of dawn arrived with the first chime of the morning bells, and the Wilis had to retreat back to their graves. Albrecht’s life was saved.

Fun points

The choreography commonly performed by ballet companies today is derived from the version revived by Marius Petipa.

It is an extremely challenging ballet, particularly for the ballerina playing Giselle. The male characters’ roles in the ballet are actually relatively small compared to a few other famous classical ballets.

Act two of the ballet has an ethereal beauty. The audience is often captivated as the Wilis danced together, dressed in white romantic tutus with a white veil.