Getting To Know Carlotta Grisi

Carlotta grisi

I always love to learn about famous dancers of our past as these are the people who shaped dance for the future. today I would like to focus on Carlotta Grisi.

Who Was Carlotta Grisi?

Carlotta Grisi was born in Visinada as Caronne Adele Josephine Marie Grisi on the 28th of June 1819 in Italy.

She studied with ballet master Guillet in Milan and graduated to the corps-de-ballet at La Scala in 1829.

While she was dancing in Naples in 1833, thine just in her early teens, she met the fabulous Jules Perrot who, though of insignificant physique and almost humpbacked, was the greatest male dancer of his age, and certainly the greatest since Auguste Vestris, who was one of the greatest of all time.Carlotta Grisi

Poems have been written in praise of Perrot’s grace, despite his unprepossessing appearance, of his ability as a mine, too, and of his beautifully proportioned legs in contrast to his tenor’s’ torso.

He was a talented choreographer, in whose ballets the leading dancers of the day did not scorn to appear.

The youthful Carlotta became pupil and mistress of this phenomenon.

She also sang but was more famous for her dancing.

She subsequently starred all over Europe, making her debut at the Paris Opera in the ballet divertissement in Donizetti’s La Favorite in 1841, in which she was partnered by Lucien Petipa, brother of Marius Petipa, who was the most celebrated choreographer of the 19th century.

Carlotta Grisi was here seen by, and later became acquainted with, the famous French poet and critic, Theophile Gautier, whose great love and inspiration she was to become and who has left us glowing descriptions of her charms both as an artist and woman.

Other ballets in which Carlotta Grisi appeared whilst in Paris included La Jolie fille de Gand (1842), La Peri (1843), Esmeralda (1844) and Paquita and Le Diable a quatre (1845), in the latter year journeying, also to London to take part in the celebrated Pas de quatre.

Carlotta Grisi was of medium height, with auburn hair and violet eyes.

Dance historian Lillian Moore wrote “In Grisi were united all the best attributes of the other outstanding ballerinas of the romantic period: the buoyant elevation of Taglioni, the technical virtuosity and mimic powers of Elssler, and the joyous, exuberant facility of Cerrito. If she could not claim to surpass her peers in any one aspect of her art, Grisi outstripped them all in versatility.

She is most famous for the role which she created of Giselle, the peasant girl who dies for love in Act 1 of the ballet which bears her name and in Act 2 rises wraithlike from the grave to save the lover who has betrayed her from the clutches of the baleful Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis.

Grisi’s last performance in the west was in Paul Taglioni’s Les Métamorphoses (aka Satanella, 1849).

In 1850, she joined Perrot in Russia, where he had been appointed ballet master, and she danced Giselle at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre.

The first Giselle in Russia had been danced by Fanny Elssler, and so the initial reaction to Grisi’s interpretation of the role was not that enthusiastic. However, over time the Russians appreciated her talents more. She was Prima Ballerina of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg from 1850 to 1853, working not only with Perrot but also Joseph Mazilier who staged for her La Jolie Fille de Gand and Vert-Vert especially for her.

In 1854, with her daughter, she left Russia for Warsaw, where she intended to continue dancing, but she became pregnant by Prince Léon Radziwill who persuaded her to retire from ballet at the height of her fame.

Grisi gave birth to her second daughter, Léontine Grisi, and at the age of 34 settled in Saint-Jean, Geneva.  She died in this district of the town on 20 May 1899 a month before her 80th birthday.

One of the creators of Giselle creators, Théophile Gautier, who was married to Carlotta’s sister Ernestina, described her dancing as having a childlike artlessness, a happy and infectious gaiety. Carlotta Grisi was the cousin of the famous soprano singers, the sisters Giuditta and Giulia Grisi.

Carlotta Grisi’s Greatest Roles

These are the roles she danced that made her famous:

  • Created the title role of Giselle (Jules Perrot, Jean Coralli and Adolphe Adam. 1841).
  • Created the dual role of Peri/Leila in the oriental La Péri (Jean Coralli and Friedrich Burgmüller. 1843)
  • Created the title role in Paquita (Joseph Mazilier and Edouard Deldevez. 1844)
  • Second ballerina in Pas de Quatre (Jules Perrot and Cesare Pugni. 1845)
  • Created the role of Mazourka in Le Diable à Quatre (Joseph Mazilier and Adolphe Adam. 1845)

Gizelle Ballet Story And A Bit Of History

gizelle ballet story

The Gizelle Ballet Story is one of the oldest ballets that is still performed today, and still very popular.

This ballet has always been one of my favorites. As a little girl, I fell in love with the long romantic white sylph costumes, and to me, they were better than traditional tutu’s.

Gizelle Ballet Story History

Gizelle evolved from the Romantic Ballet Era, which only lasted for about twenty years from 1830.  The characters that were created during the Romantic era were usually ethereal magical beings.

Giselle was first produced in Paris in 1841 by Coralli and Perrot.  The first ballerina that played the part of Gizelle was Carlotta Grisi.  Carlotta also danced the first performance in London a year later.  All the music, apart from the peasant pas de deux, was done by Adolphe Adam.
Gizelle is one of the few ballets today that still uses most of its original choreography.  As ballet technique has developed, there has been a lot more pointe work added, and different choreographers over the years have added their own flavor.
Coralli was said to have done the original choreography, but it is rumored that Carlotta Grisi’s teacher Perot, created a lot of her dances.  Giselle was not performed a great deal during the nineteenth century, but it was kept alive by Marius Petipa in Russia where he first danced it.
 gizelle ballet story

Gizelle Ballet Story

Gizelle is a simple peasant girl who lives with her mother in a small cottage in a clearing in the forest.  She is loved by one of the villagers who is a gamekeeper, Hilarion.  He brings her gifts of pheasants killed in the forest.
Gizelle, however, has met and fallen in love with someone else she knows as Loys.  Loys is actually Prince Albrecht who is trying to escape the rich court life into a more simple existence.
Hilarion is jealous and by chance sees Albrecht arriving in the village wearing his cape and sword.  He follows Albrecht and sees where he hides them, as he is sure that these are clues that will give away his identity.
Gizelle loves to dance and is crowned Queen at the vine harvest.  As she dances with Albrecht, her mother warns her of the dangers of overstraining herself with her weak heart and of the sad consequences.
As an extra warning, she tells Gizelle and the assembled crowd the legend of the Willis who haunt the woods.  They are the ghosts of girls who die before their wedding day, and they also take a terrible revenge on any man they find in their domain after nightfall.
After the celebrations, a royal hunting party arrives at the village for rest and refreshment.  Albrecht hides and Hilarion sees the chance to reveal Albrecht’s identity, after comparing the crest on the royal hunting horn with that on Albrecht’s sword.  He forces Albrecht to confront the royal party who are surprised to see him there, especially his betrothed, Bathilde.
Gizelle on learning the truth, is distraught and grabs the sword and tries to kill herself. The strain is too much for her and she acts out the famous mad scene in which she recaptures earlier moments in the ballet before she dies in her mother’s arms.
After Gizelle has been buried, she is welcomed to the ranks of the Willis by Myrtha, the ruthless Queen of the Willis.  She hears the sound of someone approaching and orders the Willis away.
It is Hilarion come to pay his respects, and the Willis surprise him and he is forced into a terrible death.  Albrecht too, brings flowers to the grave and Gizelle appears to him, but he doesn’t know if she is real or a figment of his imagination as she floats around him.
Myrtha then appears and tells Gizelle to dance him to death.  Gizelle pleads for his life, but Myrtha is unrelenting.  Gizelle manages to sustain Albrecht until dawn comes. The power of the Willis fades and so does Gizelle, leaving him the crumpled flowers to remind him of her love.

Watch The Gizelle Ballet Story Here (1969)

The greatness of this ballet lies in the second at and it is one of the most emotionally exhausting roles for any ballerina because of the contrast that it requires between the realism in act 1 to the fantasy of act 2.

Perrot had dreamed of combining the two sides of romantic ballet – the real and the supernatural in one person, and in Gizelle, this was achieved.

Never before in ballet had a character been explored so deeply in dance form, and Perrot achieved this through the combination of dance steps with acting.

For more ballet stories, click here.