This time, Albrecht tells the story

Philadelphia Ballet and Angel Corella present Giselle

3 minute read
Portrait shot, ballet dancer in a mid-air split, arms extended at 12 and 3, white chiffon fabric behind her
Yuka Iseda stars in ‘Giselle.' (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.)

The Philadelphia Ballet returns to the Academy of Music on February 29, 2024, with Giselle, the story of broken promises and broken hearts: a beautiful but fragile peasant girl falls for the handsome stranger, Albrecht, who is already engaged to the wealthy Bathilde. Giselle has a heart condition and dies as she dances her literally broken heart. Then, cue act two and the mystical vengeance of the Willies. It’s one of artistic director Angel Corella’s favorite ballets and one he danced to acclaim with the American Ballet Theater. He is bringing that acclaimed sensibility to his own production.

Albrecht tells the story

Of course, the ballet is about Giselle, but Corella reminded me of the boy in the story. “We see the story through Albrecht’s eyes and how he messed up.” In many productions, Count Albrecht is danced as a thoughtless nobleman leading on the naive girl for sport. It’s the obvious interpretation, but Corella works with his dancers to act out a more emotional Albrecht: “I think that he was really in love with Giselle, that he could have spent the rest of his life with her, but he is caught in a place between the love of his life and what society is telling him he has to do.”

Society is represented by Bathilde, who Corella sees as very entitled: “She knows she’s gorgeous, she knows that everyone desires everything that she has, but at the same time, she pretends to be humble—it’s all a façade, it’s all fake with her. And Giselle is exactly the opposite; it’s all inside.”

In the world of Giselle, social class is clearly defined. Hilarion, the local gamekeeper, woos Giselle with a brace of pheasants as well as flowers and has his own expectations about the girl next door. “They’ve grown up together since they were little kids,” Corella explained. “When he shows his love to her, it is very brutish and very rough. Albrecht is always asking first, 'Is it okay if I touch you?' Always being more delicate.”

True love or a walk in the countryside?

In Corella’s interpretation, Giselle sees Albrecht as someone who will treat her with the care and attention she craves, while Albrecht sees in her the openness of spirit lacking in the woman that society says is his proper match. It seems fated that they would fall in love. That’s the only way to make sense of act two, he pointed out—if Albrecht didn’t love her, why would he visit her grave? But the structures of their society keep them apart. “The core of the story is something that we can all relate to. Straight people, gay people, bisexual, anyone can actually relate to a story of betrayal and redemption and forgiveness.” It’s a reminder that the painful choice—love or the approval of society—is often still with us today.

The power of the dancing carries the meaning of act two: the spirit of Giselle forgives Albrecht and saves him from the Willies. They dance their lost love in one of the most ethereal pas des deux ever. But when I asked Corella what audiences should look for, he said to watch for the gestures in act one because the mime tells the story. For example, “when the dancer puts two fingers [up] and hand on the heart, it means ‘I swear love.’” And he drew my attention to a key scene: “The mother tells [Giselle], ‘Stop dancing, because if you die from a broken heart, then you become a Willie, and then the Willies come out at night and make men dance until they die.’” That section tells the whole story. Faculty member Jessica Kilpatrick dances the mother, Berthe, and Corella says, “The movements, when she dances, are almost like a silent movie.”

I have always loved act two of Giselle, but this time, I’ll be watching act one to see if Albrecht can convince us he is not a cad but is caught between true love and the expectations of his own social station.

What, When, Where

Giselle. By Angel Corella, based on the original choreography of Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Philadelphia Ballet. $25-$263. February 29-March 10, 2024, at the Academy of Music, 240 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or


Kimmel Cultural Campus venues are ADA-compliant. Patrons can purchase wheelchair seating or loose chairs online by calling patron services at (215) 893-1999 or by emailing patron services. With advance notice, patron services can provide options for personal care attendants, American Sign Language, Braille tickets and programs, audio descriptions, and other services.

Masks are not required in Kimmel Cultural Campus venues.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation