Nostalgia, melancholy and ineffable loss, the emotional guidelines of Romanticism, were ingeniously exploited by Gautier and Saint Georges in conjunction with the Slavic legend of the Wilis to produce the quintessential Romantic Ballet, Giselle, in 1841.

Giselle, an innocent peasant girl betrayed by a cynical nobleman, dies of a broken heart in Act I.

In Act II her spirit is claimed by the vampirical Wilis who command her to dance her repentant lover to death. The legend of the Wilis concerns itself with affianced maidens who have died before their wedding day, and in their restless feet there remains an irresistible desire to dance – at midnight they rise up from their graves and waylay unfortunate young men who are forced to dance until they drop dead. The great triumph of Giselle has assured its place in the ballet repertoire, where it has continued to give audiences the wilis for over 150 years.

Synopsis of Act II

Hans, a shady gamekeeper earlier spurned by Giselle, comes to make an offering at her grave, but is frightened away by what appear to be dangerously large pests. Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, now makes her presence manifest, establishing domination over that part of the forest in a stunning entrance. She summons the Wilis from below who proceed to dance a vague (but potent) rite. The freshly buried Giselle is called forth and inducted into the vampire’s band. Albert now appears in the woods, forlorn, bearing the suitably expensive lilies for the maiden he unwittingly killed in the previous act. Giselle’s spirit comes to him as in a dream and he runs off after it, his mind disturbed.

Hans, now trapped mercilessly by the Wilis, is danced to a frenzy and thrown headlong into the bog. The queen next commands Giselle to dance her lover to death. They tastefully choose the “pas de deux” form, for it gives Giselle the chance to buy time with her own variation. Albert is pushed perilously close to the brink until the sun rises, sending the deadly Wilis back into their graves to await the next episode.

  • Music by:
    Adolphe Adam
  • Costumes by:
    Mike Gonzales
  • Lighting by:
    Kip Marsh
  • Scenario by:
    Theophile Gautier and Vernoy de Sint-Georges
  • Decor by:
    Edward Gorey
  • Staged by:
    Tchernychova after Perrot and Petipa