Spotlight: Carlotta Grisi

It's Spotlight Saturday! This week's focus is Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi.

She was born Caronne Adele Josephine Marie Grisi on 28 June 1819, in Visinada, Istria - modern Croatia. She trained at the ballet school of the famous Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Her debut came in 1836, when she performed in London with the noted danseur Jules Perrot, whom she also studied with. Her next appearance was in Paris at the Theatre de la Renaissance in 1840, and in 1841 she and Perrot went on tour in Europe. They performed in Paris, London, Vienna, Munich, and Milan, where Carlotta sung as well as danced. She almost exclusively danced Perrot's choreography, which at the time was gaining extreme popularity. As a result, her own popularity grew quickly.

She is most famous for her portrayal of Giselle, which she premiered as her full-length debut in Paris on 28 June 1841 at the Ballet du Theatre de l'Academie Royale de Musique. The ballet was a collaboration between Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli, to music by Adolphe Adam. While Carlotta portrayed Giselle, Lucien Petipa (brother of famed choreographer and Russian ballet master Marius Petipa) played Albrecht, Adele Dumilatre played Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, and Jean Coralli played Hilarion. The ballet was a resounding success. Critics declared Giselle a worthy successor to the Romantic masterpiece La Sylphide.

The success of Giselle made Carlotta a star, with her salary increasing from 5,000 francs to 20,000 francs in 1844 with additional performance fees. In 1845, Grisi was one of four ballerinas who performed Jules Perrot's piece Pas de Quatre in London. Her fellow dancers were Lucile Grahn, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni; the piece was met with rapture by public and critics alike, despite only four performances. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended the third.

Carlotta's last appearance in western Europe was in Paul Taglioni's Les Metamorphoses of 1849, now more commonly known as Satanella. In 1850, she left for St. Petersburg to join Jules Perrot, who had been appointed Russian ballet master. She performed Giselle at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre; the first Giselle in Russia had been Fanny Elssler, and the initial response to Carlotta's interpretation was not enthusiastic. But the Russians soon warmed to her; she was appointed Prima Ballerina of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres from 1850 to 1853. She worked with Perrot and Joseph Mazilier, who staged La Jolie Fille de Gand and Vert-Vert especially for her.

In 1854, she left Russia for Warsaw in Poland. She intended to continue dancing, but became pregnant by Prince Leon Radziwill. He persuaded her to retire at the height of her fame, and she gave birth to her second daughter Leontine at the age of 34. She settled in Saint-Jean, Geneva, living in the Villa Grisi until her death on 20 May 1899, a month before her 80th birthday.

One of the creators of Giselle, Theophile Gautier (who was also Carlotta's brother-in-law), described her dancing as having a 'childlike artlessness, a happy and infectious gaiety'. Her portrayal of Giselle kicked off one of the most popular ballets today.

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Mia Slavenska.

- Selene

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