Posted on 11 June 2020 By Rose Mulready

Come with us ... and travel through time: not only to the 19th century and the ghostly forests of Giselle, but to 1990, an artistic peak for The Australian Ballet, when great stars shared the stage with up-and-coming youngsters (some of whom are still household names today). What goes well with Giselle? Maybe some sort of pressed grape arrangement to celebrate the Harvest Festival, and perhaps a chilled parfait to go with the spooky atmosphere of Act II. Put your hand on your heart - this is going to get emotional. Now join us in the time machine ... 

Read more about Giselle and the full synopsis in our 2019 program


Giselle was first staged in 1841 on the Paris Opera stage, and was part of a craze for Romantic ballet started by La Sylphide. Supernatural maidens, massed corps de ballet girls in gauzy white skirts lit (hazardously) by gaslight, woodland glades, tragic love, madness - the Parisian audience lapped it up, and almost two centuries later, it continues to be one of the world's most beloved ballets (and a benchmark for classical dancers everywhere). 

The Australian Ballet performs Maina Gielgud's version, and the company has danced it around the world to great acclaim. Gielgud, a member of the great British acting family and an international ballet star, brought to her staging a deep understanding of the work's emotional core and the nuances of the Romantic style. She continues to coach her production on our dancers today, paying great attention to the positions of the arms and head and fingers, the quality of lightness in the jumps, the clarity of the mime and the details of the story. It all adds up to a Giselle with its original 'perfume' hauntingly intact. 

Watch out for: The famous mad scene, where Giselle, in shock from realising that Albrecht has two-timed her, dies from a heart attack. Like a broken doll about to wind down, she poignantly reenacts the scenes of their love. 

Fun fact: The ebullient Peasant Pas de deux is performed by David McAllister and Elizabeth Toohey, now our artistic director and ballet mistress. These roles were a big break for them and they performed the pas de deux when the company opened Giselle in New York. 

Deep dive: Watch Maina Gielgud coaching the mime in Giselle

Christine Walsh. Photography Branco Gaica


Kelvin Coe, who dances Albrecht, was one of The Australian Ballet's first principal dancers and a true luminary who achieved fame both locally and abroad; he danced with Margot Fonteyn and Carla Fracci, joined London Festival Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, and finally returned to The Australian Ballet at the request of Maina Gielgud, whom he had partnered overseas. He also taught at The Australian Ballet School, transmitting his princely presence, warmth and perfect partnering to the next generations. 

Christine Walsh, who dances Giselle, was The Australian Ballet's reigning ballerina in the 1980s, performing leading roles with the company all around the world (including Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty at Covent Garden, before the Queen). Her delicacy, poise and charm made her a worthy successor to stages graced by Fonteyn. 

Watch out for: The moment in the Act II pas de deux when Albrecht holds Giselle at full stretch above his head. It's the Dirty Dancing lift, but ballet did it first. 

Fun fact: In Albrecht's final solo, the male dancer performs 32 entrechat six [jumps in which the dancer crosses the legs six times before landing]. Fortunately, Albrecht is supposed to be half-dead at this point, so the dancer can fall to the ground after this feat. 

Deep dive: Learn more about the lead characters in Giselle

Christine and Kelvin rehearsing Giselle. Photography Jim McFarlane


The 19th-century French composer Adolphe Adam mostly wrote vaudeville and light theatre music. His score for Giselle, although not an achievement on the level of a Swan Lake or a Cinderella, beautifully summons forth mood and character. Albrecht, Giselle and Hilarion all have their themes, and the worlds of the peasants and the nobles - the clash of which will bring so much heartache - is sharply contrasted. 

Listen out for: The orchestral colours in the music of the Wilis - ghostly woodwinds, high strings and mystical harp. 

Fun fact: Adam wrote the Christmas carol 'O, Holy night'. 

Deep dive: Revisit the intricacies of the score with our Giselle CD, performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Nicolette Fraillon. 

Lisa Bolte. Photography Branco Gaica


The legendary theatre designer Peter Farmer has designed numerous productions for The Australian Ballet, including Manon, Madame ButterflyLa Bayadère, The Three Musketeers and The Dream. His designs for Giselle emphasise the contrast between the ballet's acts. Act I, set in the peasant village, is all russets and sunny yellows, with velvety textures - the mood is celebratory and simple. Even the nobles' clothes are in warm creams and earthy golds. We are in the human realm. Act II, in the haunted wood, is all icy blues and funereal, shadowy blacks. We are in the realm of the wilis, risen ghosts who wear sashes of flowers and leaves across their breasts, as if they've dragged wreaths with them from their graves. 

Look out for: The scenic painting, especially in Act II, with its eerie moonlit forest. Peter Farmer's sets are all painted by hand, which is rarely done these days. 

Fun fact: The Princess Bathilde's hunting dogs in this 1990 production are wolfhounds; in more recent productions, we've used borzois. 

Deep dive: Take a closer look at the eternal beauty of Giselle.

Charles Thompson and Natasha Kusen. Photography Jeff Busby