Mikhail Baryishnikov performs Albrecht's variation from Act II with the Willis. Notice how he defies gravity!
Giselle is set in the Rhineland of France in the middle ages during the grape harvest. The story begins when Giselle falls in love with a nobleman named Albrecht, who has captured the girl’s attention while masquerading as a farmer named Loys. However, Hilarion, a hunter, is also in love with Giselle and warns her against trusting this stranger. When Giselle finds out that Loys is not only a liar, but is a liar with a fiancée, the young peasant girl with a weak heart dances herself to death and becomes one of the Wilis, the virgins who have been cheated out of their marriages by death.
Albrecht, who is still in love with Giselle, visits her grave and she appears as a ghost before him. He asks for her forgiveness, and against the will of the Willis, she grants it to him and disappears again. Hilarion enters the last scene, also to visit Giselle's grave, and then is thrown to his death in a lake by the Willis. The Willis then pursue Albrecht and sentence him to death, but Giselle protects him and her love saves him from the Willis. By not succumbing to feelings of vengeance and hatred that define the Wilis, Giselle is freed from any association with them, and returns to her grave to rest in peace.
- Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot choreographed the original version of Giselle, but the most popular version includes the revisions of Marius Petipa.
- Originally performed in 1841 in Paris, France at the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique
- The ballet was conceived by the influential French poet, author, and critic Théophile Gautier.
- Giselle was created to honor the ballerina Carlotta Grisi, an Italian ballerina, whom Gautier not only admired for her dancing, but with whom he was in love.
- Gautier was inspired by a passage from Heinrich Heine's 1835 poem, De l'Allemagne
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