What Is the Ballet "Giselle" About?

by Petra Turnbull

"Giselle" is a classical ballet about betrayal, love and forgiveness.

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"Giselle" is a classical ballet loosely based on works by German poet Heinrich Heine and French writer Victor Hugo. The libretto for the ballet was written in 1941 by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, and the score for the music was composed by .Adolphe Adam. The ballet is about a young, sickly woman who falls in love with a man already engaged to someone else, and can be summarized in four parts.

The First Meeting

Set in the German wine district of the Rhineland, the young peasant woman, Giselle, occupies a small cottage with her mother when Duke Albrecht, disguised as a farm worker, arrives. Omitting the fact that he is engaged to the aristocratic Bathilde, Albrecht makes Giselle fall in love with him. Hilarion, the gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle. He attempts to put the girl on her guard against the newcomer, without being heard. After dancing a duet with Albrecht, Giselle is called by her mother who seems worried and gives an indication of Giselle being a sickly girl prone to fatigue. Giselle follows her mother into the cottage.


The prince leaves the scene following Giselle's departure, when hunting horns are heard and a group arrives consisting, among others, of Albrecht's fiancee Bathilde. Giselle comes back to perform a dance for the hunting party and is subsequently rewarded by Bathilde with a necklace. The hunters take their leave and Albrecht reappears together with a group of workers. A party is arranged where Giselle dances. In the meantime, the jealous gamekeeper has found out about the background of his competitor and returns with proof of the prince's real name and status. At the same time, the hunting party returns and Albrecht's disguise, and engagement, is uncovered. Giselle, disappointed and heartbroken, goes mad and dies from the shock.

Life After Death

The second act sees the unhappy gamekeeper grieving at the grave of Giselle where he is discovered by the Wilis, a group of vengeful female ghosts who, in their lives, have been betrayed by their lovers. Wilis force the men they find to dance until they die from exertion, and the gamekeeper hastily hides. The Wilis raise Giselle from the dead and make her one of their own. Shortly after, the vengeful ghosts discover the gamekeeper at the same time as the remorseful Albrecht arrives and sees the ghostly appearance of Giselle. While the Wilis surround the gamekeeper and force him to dance until he drops dead, Albrecht pursues Giselle and begs her forgiveness.


After having killed the gamekeeper, the Wilis return and find Albrecht whom they immediately sentence to death as well. When they start making Albrecht dance, Giselle decides to protect her unfaithful lover from the ghosts by dancing around him, thereby placing a barrier between the prince and the ghosts. At the break of dawn, the Wilis disappear and Albrecht is still alive. Giselle forgives her lover and also vanishes, leaving Albrecht to weep for her at her grave.

About the Author

Based in the U.K., Petra Turnbull has been working as a journalist since 1989. Her articles on the film and book trades have been published in "Screen International," "Dagens Naringsliv," "Film Magasinet" and other Scandinavian newspapers and magazines. She now manages her own book shop. Turnbull holds degrees in law and economics from Goethe University, Germany and Oslo Business School in Norway.

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