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Romantic ballet in two acts


From the romantic-classical repertoire of the 19th century no ballet, apart from the danish Bournonville canon, has been handed down as choreographically complete as Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot's "Giselle" (1841). Such a successful mating of plot and steps, even for to-day's audiences, is in no small measure due to a libretto finely dramatised through the choreography. Giselle, thus stands separate from the three great Tchaikovsky ballets, where incompleteness and vagaries of plot prove problematic to a discerning dance public. The mythical "Swan Lake", the fairy-tale "Sleeping Beauty" and the bizarre "Nutcracker" demand to be re-thought on dramatic terms. The handed down parts of pure dance from these ballets (e.g. the 2nd white act of "Swan Lake"), which have made them the classics they have become, need to be bedded in a more or less new dramatic frame. In the case of "Giselle", there is surely no need of change expect, within the structure we now posses, to breathe new life and nature its dramatic strengths.

John Neumeier, June 1983

Music: Adolphe Adam
Traditional Choreography: Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa
Staging and new Choreography: John Neumeier
Artistic Adviser: Natalia Makarova
Set and Costumes: Yannis Kokkos

2 hours 30 minutes | 1 intermission

Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, June 23, 1983
Production 2000 – Premiere:
Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, December 10, 2000

On Tour:
2014 Baden Baden

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Act I
A village during the grape harvest

Duke Albert has developed an infatuation for the peasant girl Giselle. In order to meet her, he appears in front of the house where she lives with her blind mother Berthe. His friend Wilfrid, a member of the Prince of Courland's hunting party, tries in vain to persuade Albert to join the hunt. Sending Wilfrid away, Albert disguises himself as a peasant and hides his sword in the hut opposite Giselle's house. The gamekeeper Hilarion, who is in love with Giselle, watches as she meets Albert. He interrupts the rendez-vous and tries to dissuade Giselle from her interest in his rival. A group of winemakers pass by Berthe's house on the way to the grape harvest. Giselle dances with them. Berthe interrupts the dance, concerned about Giselle's poor health. Albert hears the call to hunt. Not wanting to be recognized, he mingles with the winemakers and disappears. The Prince of Courland appears with his hunting party, which also includes his daughter Bathilde, Albert's fiancée. They take their rest in front of Berthe's house. While Berthe tends to the guests, Giselle and Bathilde befriend each other. The Prince and Bathilde continue on with their hunting party. The villagers celebrate the wine festival. Albert returns and joins in the festivities, dancing with Giselle, who has been declared the queen of the grape harvest. Hilarion interrupts the celebrations: He has found Albert's rapier in the hut and shows it to Giselle as proof of Albert's true identity. Albert denies that the rapier is his, but Bathilde and her father, returning just at that moment, recognise Albert for who he really is. Giselle's world collapses, she dies of a broken heart.

Act II
Giselle's grave in a forest glade

During the twilight hours, Berthe, Bathilde and Hilarion mourn at Giselle's grave. It lies in a place where the Wilis meet at night. The Wilis are young brides who, betrayed by their lovers, died before their wedding and now arise as ghosts. They haunt and take revenge upon their betrayers, forcing any men who cross their path to dance themselves to death. Hilarion flees after witnessing the appearance of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, who summons the other Wilis. Giselle is called from her grave to join them. As the Wilis disappear, Albert arrives at Giselle's grave. Giselle appears to him, but constantly eludes him. In the meantime, the Wilis have discovered Hilarion and force him to dance until he dies of exhaustion. They then discover Albert. Wishing to protect him, Giselle places him behind the cross on her grave. But Myrtha orders Giselle to dance, to entice Albert away from the cross. However, Giselle‘s dance is one of love and forgiveness. Albert follows her and begins an increasingly ecstatic dance, before finally collapsing. The sound of the morning church bells from the village and the dawn's first light break the Wilis' power. They disappear, taking Giselle with them. Albert remains alone.