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Giselle (Act I) [1978, Chicago]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0430
Run Time
0h 46m 49s
Date Produced
Giselle is a two-act romantic ballet that was first performed in Paris in 1841. Most 20th century versions are based on Marius Petipa's Imperial Ballet revivals of it around the turn of the century. The Chicago Ballet premiered its own version, presumably also based on Petipa's choreography, on March 30, 1978.

This video represents a recording of Act I from a performance of the ballet on April 2, 1978, several days after its premiere at the end of March. The video is a bit dark and rather washed out, so difficult to make out. 
The video begins with a dark and washed out shot of a closed curtain on a stage. After nearly a minute and a half, the curtain rises to reveal full sets of the Rhineland. A young man (perhaps Hilarion the gamekeeper?) arrives onstage and knocks on both visible cottage doors. Many dancers begin pouring out from these doors; eventually, all exit on behind one of the cottages--all but the initial male dancer, who lingers a few moments before exiting in a different direction. 

Another man (perhaps Duke Albrecht disguised as a peasant) then enters stage and encounters only one vilager. He seems to be seeking audience with young Giselle, but he is stalled by the other villager. He returns to her cottage and knocks fervently, hiding when she eventually emerges. While he hides, Giselle dances a lighthearted solo around the stage. Albrecht soon comes out from hiding and catches the shy Giselle unawares. She tries to escape from him but he blocks her way and eventually convinces her to dance a pas de deux with him. She tries to run home once again and he pulls her back, professing his love for her. She is clearly very pleased, and dances with joy before joining Albrecht for another dance together. 

When Giselle is finally ready to return home, she is blocked once again, this time by Hilarion. He expresses his suspicion about Albrecht, admonishes her, and tries to convince her to come with him instead. When he kneels at her feet, Albrecht intervenes and pulls him away, embracing Giselle. Hilarion bounces back and tries to start a fight with Albrecht over her. They circle one another and Giselle runs to Albrecht's side, at which point Hilarion begrudgingly exits.

At this point, the rest of the villagers return (from the harvest?) and Giselle happily greets them while Albrecht holds back; Giselle then encourages him to come forward and meet everyone. He does so, and then moves to the side as Giselle leads a group of maidens in an ensemble dance (she dances a solo in front of them). They are all then joined by young men (Albrecht is Giselle's partner) for a larger couples' ensemble dance. Giselle and Albrecht break off for separate choreography from the rest. After awhile, all come together for a two-armed windmill line that revolves around center stage. Giselle and Albrecht then come back together for the remainder of the dance; their final pose is a shoulder sit while the rest stand in relevé behind them.

Next, Albrecht launches into a solo while the rest look on; before long, Giselle joins him for a pas de deux. The onlookers then once again join them for a group finale. This time Giselle and Albrecht's final pose is a lap sit; the rest stand in shoulder sits behind them.

At this point, the fun is interrupted by the emergence of Giselle's mother, who marches over and pulls her away from Albrecht. Giselle dances a brief giddy solo in an attempt to explain that she is happily in love, but her mother checks her temperature and seems to insist that she return home. Albrecht approaches and begins to guide her away but once again her mother intervenes and blocks Giselle from Albrecht. Albrecht waves to his lover as she is dragged back home; the rest of the group waves as well and scatters. 

After Albrecht exits, Hilarion runs onstage, presumably looking for Giselle. He seems to become discouraged and soon exits. Then two groups of local maidens enter just before a party of noblemen arrives and introduces themselves, seeking hospitality. After all have bowed to one another, one of the men knocks on Giselle's door and her mother emerges, apparently agreeing to organize a celebration in their honor. Then Giselle emerges as well, curtsying and demonstrating her dancing for the visitors. They seem to be impressed, and shy Giselle runs to her mother in response; the visitors then seem to offer her a gift (a necklace?) which she excitedly displays to her fellow villagers. She then brings out a couple, presumably meant to perform for the visitors. The couple begins an energetic (grand) pas de deux as the rest loook on. After they complete their long couple's dance and bow for their audience, they take turns performing individual variations for the group. First, the male dancer performs an allegro solo; after he bows, the female dancer follows with her own fast-paced variation. Each then performs a second variaion before coming back together for a coda and final bows.

After the couple exits, Giselle returns to center and curtsies once again before the group, seeming to invite the visitors into her home for a meal. The crowd disperses, half entering her home and the rest heading elsewhere. Once all are inside, Hilarion enters stage and appears to have major concerns; he approaches Giselle's door but is scared offstage; just as he exits, several groups of three villagers begin entering and frolicking about the stage. All then join together for an ensemble dance. Six more village maidens soon join them; all eventually end the dance by clapping in the direction of Giselle's house.

Giselle's mother emerges and the crowd disperses to give her space. Giselle follows her out and reunites with Albrecht, after which Giselle seems to beg her mother's permission to spend time with him. Once it is granted, all appear happy and retire to the edges of the stage while Giselle begins a solo. When she has completed it, Albrecht praises her and guides her offstage with him. Next, six the village maidens dance their way toward center in groups of two and launch into an ensemble dance; after awhile, the rest of the townspeople join them. The group then parts as Giselle and Albrecht reenter down the center.

As all strike a final pose and the happy couple embraces, Hilarion rushes onstage and pulls them apart. Intending to break them up once and for all, he produces Albrecht's finely gilded sword, proving that he is not the peasant he claims to be. Refusing to believe him at first, Giselle runs into her lover's arms, and then waits for him to explain. One of the noble visitors (perhaps Bathilde, Albrecht's fiancé), who had presented Giselle with the gift for her dancing earlier, then emerges and greets Albrecht. Giselle is engraged and, much as Hilarion had done to her, pulls them apart. Bathilde appears to explain matters to Giselle, who then confronts Albrecht in dismay. Overcome, she collapses before she even reaches the other side of the stage. When she rises again, she teeters about for several moments before lowering herself to the ground again. Surrounded by the concerned crowd, she rises a second time to run hysterically around the stage, refusing both Albrecht and Hilarion. She ends up in her mother's arms, but once again begins running hysterically around the stage, eventually dancing one final solo before bursting into tears and running around again. After a final embrace with her mother, Giselle also embraces Albrecht one last time before falling to the ground a final time, dead. Albrecht, her mother, and the others rush forward; Albrecht pulls Hilarion forth to show him what he has done, runs for his sword, and tries to slay him in revenge. Beside himself, Albrecht returns to Giselle and grieves at her feet. Someone tries to pull him away, but he refuses; the curtain drops on this scene of mourning. It rises and falls several times more on the frozen mourners (presumably due to applause), and the video ends.
Actors, Performers and Participants
Pontois, Noella (is performer)
Jude, Charles (is performer)
Begley, Gregory (is performer)
Roses, Cynthia Ann (is performer)
Zeydel, Diana (is performer)
Smith, Kathleen (is performer)
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)