Giselle was first produced at the Paris Opera in 1841 with Carlotta Grisi and Lucien Petipa in the leading roles of Giselle and Albrecht. With music by Adolphe Adam and choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, Giselle had as its starting point a libretto by critic and poet Theophile Gautier, which he took from a story by Heinrich Heine. The plot outline was streamlined by playwright Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and tells of the betrayal of a peasant girl, Giselle, by the high-born Albrecht.
Giselle is commonly regarded as one of the most significant works of the Romantic era. It offers audiences many of those experiences now thought to be characteristic of Romanticism in ballet, from the desire to escape into a world of mystery and beauty to a fascination with the destructive and the tragic. It has been danced by most of the world's ballet companies and has been reproduced in many versions since its creation.
In Australia, Giselle was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne in 1855, just fourteen years after its Paris premiere. It was presented as part of a season by Therese Strebinger and Jerome Caradini and was based on a production by Henri Finart, in which Strebinger had performed in Madrid several years earlier. Since then the ballet has been successfully staged in Australia by many visiting and resident ballet companies. Anna Pavlova and her company presented Giselle in April 1929 in Brisbane with subsequent shows in Sydney and Melbourne. In these performances Giselle was danced by Pavlova, Albrecht by Pierre Vladimiroff and Myrthe by Ruth French. Edouard Borovansky (Borowanski in the program) appeared as Enrique, a Forester (Hilarion?). The next major production by a visiting company was that staged by Ballet Rambert on its Australian tour of 1947 to 1949. The Rambert tour in fact opened with Giselle in Melbourne on 17 October 1947 with Sally Gilmour, Walter Gore, and Joyce Graeme dancing the roles of Giselle, Albrecht and Myrthe respectively
The first production by an Australian company was in 1944 when the Borovansky Ballet staged the work, designed by William Constable, in Adelaide as part of the company's first professional season. Laurel Martyn danced the role of Giselle, Serge Bousloff that of Albrecht and Dorothy Stevenson that of Myrthe. Martyn's Ballet Guild presented Giselle for the first time on 22 September 1949 with Martyn in the title role, Graham Smith as Albrecht and Eve King as Myrthe. The Australian Ballet staged the work in 1964 with guest stars Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the leading roles, and with Janet Karin as Myrthe. The company toured this production by Peggy van Praagh with designs by Kenneth Rowell on its first overseas tour in 1965. It was awarded the Grand Prix of the City of Paris at the third International Festival of Dance in November 1965.
In 1986 Maina Gielgud mounted a new production for the Australian Ballet. With designs by Peter Farmer, it opened in Adelaide on 12 September 1986 with Christine Walsh and Kelvin Coe as Giselle and Albrecht and Joanne Michel as Myrthe. Gielgud's production has remained in the repertoire of the Australian Ballet ever since. Under Ross Stretton's direction, however, in 2001 the Australian Ballet restaged the van Praagh production, complete with its distinctive first act pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht choreographed by van Praagh in 1973. The opening cast for this production included Miranda Coney and David McAllister as Giselle and Albrecht. In 2006, Gielgud returned as guest of the Australian Ballet to restage her own production twenty years after its premiere. On opening night at the Sydney Opera House on May 3, Rachel Rawlins and Matthew Lawrence performed the lead roles.
The roles of Giselle and Albrecht have been danced by all Australia's leading artists since the first Borovansky production in 1944. Guest artists who have made a significant contribution to the work's performance history in Australia include Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, who danced Act II for Ballet Victoria in 1975, Carla Fracci who danced Giselle to Kelvin Coe's Albrecht with the Australian Ballet in 1976 and Narelle Benjamin who danced the title role with the Australian Ballet in 2001.
Cyril W. Beaumont, The Ballet Called Giselle (Dance Horizons: Princeton, NJ), 1987 and other editions; Edward H. Pask, Enter the Colonies Dancing. A History of Dance in Australia 1835-1940 (Melbourne: OUP, 1979); Edward H. Pask, Ballet in Australia. The Second Act 1940-1980 (Melbourne: OUP, 1982).
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This small collection of programs covers seasons by the First Australian Ballet from a production of Scheherazade and Divertissements in 1934 to the company's Silver Jubilee season of Giselle and Walpurgis Night in 1954.
This collection contains musical scores, photographs and printed papers documenting the career of Laurel Martyn. The material covers the period from her school recitals in the 1930s to her guest performance in 1986 in the Australian Ballet's production of Giselle. The photographic component is extensive and includes material from Martyn's pre-professional career in Queensland and London as well as material relating to Martyn's performances with and productions for the Borovansky Ballet, Ballet Guild and Ballet Victoria. The printed material includes programs from productions by Ballet Guild and Ballet Victoria, and board and other administrative papers relating to Ballet Victoria.