Giselle, danced to familiar music by the French ballet and opera composer Adolphe Adam, and choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, is a Romantic-era ballet first danced in Paris in 1841. It is one of the very few ballets of that tradition that still holds the stage, danced in calf-length tutus, and it is the only ballet to survive in its entirety from the Romantic ballet era. In the first act, villager Giselle is in love with Albrecht, a nobleman disguised as a peasant. When Giselle discovers the deceit, she is heartbroken and dies. In the second act, the undying love of Giselle for Albrecht, who has come by night to visit her tomb, saves him from having his life-spirit taken from him by the spectral wilis, the vampiric ghosts of betrothed girls who have died before their wedding day, and their Queen. At day break, Giselle has saved Albrecht's life, but must part from him forever. They pledge their love to each other, and she descends back into her grave, at peace with herself. When a Giselle is well-danced and well-acted, it is perhaps the most poignant of all classical ballets.
The Romantic poet Théophile Gautier is the author of the plot for this ballet.
The version we see today is not much like the original, where the most famous dancer of her day, Fanny Elssler had an operatic mad scene at the end of the first act. Giselle passed out of the European repertory until it was revived by Sergei Diaghilev in 1910, a startling change of pace for the avant-garde Ballets Russes. The role of Giselle is one of the most sought-after in ballet, since it demands both technical perfection and outstanding grace and lyricism, as well as good acting skills. In the first act Giselle has to convey the innocence and love of a country girl, the heartbreak of being betrayed. In the second act Giselle must seem otherworldly, yet loving. Some of the most accomplished dancers to perform this role include Carlotta Grisi (for whom Théophile Gautier created the role), Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spessivtseva, Galina Ulanova, Alicia Markova, Alicia Alonso, Beryl Goldwyn, Antoinette Sibley, Karen Kain, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, Irina Kolpakova, Ekaterina Maximova, Carla Fracci, Altynai Asylmuratova, Alessandra Ferri, Diana Vishneva, Vand Alina Cojocaru. Famous Albrechts include Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Erik Bruhn and Vladimir Malakhov.