First produced at the Paris Opera in 1841, with Carlotta Grisi in the title
role, Giselle epitomises the Romantic Ballet period. Originally set in rural
Germany it is dramatically based on the legend of the Wilis, spirits of
dance-loving brides who have died tragically before their wedding day. Led
by the bitter Queen Myrtha they perform their ghostly rites and evilly seek
revenge on any man who crosses their path.
The production has been adapted for EYB's large cast by adding extra music from other ballets composed by Adolphe Adam and setting it on an
English country estate in 1912. Prince Albert is an army officer peparing
for the First World War.
Although engaged to Lady Bathilde Albert is in love with Giselle and
disguises himself as a Footman, a servant, in order to gain entry into the
household in which Giselle is a governess to the aristocratic children.
Giselle who has a weak heart loves to dance but her Father, the Head Butler,
constantly warns her of her possible fate by relating the legend of the
Wilis to the Servants and Villagers.
Suspicious Hilarion, the Gamekeeper who is protective of Giselle, and his
girlfriend Lucienne discover Albert's true identity and try to warn Giselle
against him. The Hunting Party arrive for lunch with Lady Bathilde and her
brother the Duke and his wife. Giselle and Bathilde exchange confidences
not realising that they are both engaged to the same man. After Hilarion,
Lucienne and Friends provide the entertainment the Hunt departs
Seeing Albert and Giselle together during a celebration dance Hilarion at
last reveals Albert as an imposter. He confronts him with his ceremonial
sword to prove his true indentity, sounds the hunting horn and recalls the
Hunting Party. Giselle is horrified and disbelieving to see Albert greet
Lady Bathilde, his fiancée, with a kiss. She becomes deranged by the shock
of being betrayed and as a result of her weak heart she dies at Prince
The Servants and Hunt visit Giselle's grave to pay their respects. Giselle
is initiated into the Wilis and heartbroken Albert prays to see his beloved
Giselle. She comes to him and although Myrtha, the Queen , condemns him to
death Giselle saves his life by sustaining him through the night and dancing
with him until dawn. Woodnymphs taunt and condemn the hunt gentlemen and
male servants and Hilarion meets his death by being driven into the lake by
the revengeful Wilis.
The costumes designed by Keith Bish have been beautifully updated and
cleverly retain a period feel as well as accommodating the ballet shoes.
Giselle is a governess, a more sophisticated young woman who has a
protective Father instead of a widowed Mother. Hilarion who has feelings
for Giselle also has a girlfriend Lucienne. By introducing new characters to
the ballet it adds more dramatic interaction between them and by setting the
ballet in the early 1900's with the 'upstairs downstairs' theme new life is
injected into a very classic ballet.