Carlotta Grisi was one of the stars of early nineteenth century ballet
, a particularly rich time for the art, which fell into relative disuse afterwards, until revived by the Russians in the 1890s. Grisi was the first Giselle
, and Giselle
is the only great ballet from that period that is regularly performed even today.
Born on 28th June 1819 in Visinada in the peninsula of Istria (then in Austria-Hungary, now in Croatia), Caronne Adele Josephine (or Giuseppina) Marie Grisi was of Italian ancestry. She studied at La Scala and began her dancing career at the age of eight.
In Naples in 1834 she danced with Jules Perrot (1810-1892), a leading figure in the ballet world and in her life. She became his student, then his lover and (perhaps by a polite fiction) wife. Later she was to leave him for another dancing partner, the great Lucien Petipa. She and Perrot popularized the polka when they danced it together; and he created for her and the other most important ballerinas of the age his Pas de quatre, a showpiece for four principals, carefully allowing each ego to shine in its solos. The four great ballerinas who danced that first Pas de quatre in London in 1845 were Carlotta Grisi, Marie Taglioni, Fanny Cerrito, and the Dane Lucile Grahn.
She was a brilliant success all over Europe, but especially in Paris, where she first appeared in 1841, and in London. She also had a fine voice and used it in some parts. In Paris the poet Théophile Gautier was among the group who created the highly romantic ballet Giselle for her, with Grisi as the peasant girl dying on the eve of her wedding to Prince Albrecht, and joining the wilis to haunt him. Lucien Petipa was her Albrecht. Gautier married Carlotta's sister Ernesta.
Grisi also created the starring roles in La Péri (1843), La Esmeralda (1844, from Victor Hugo's famous tale of the gypsy girl and the hunchback but given a happy ending in one version), and Paquita (1846).
Her working relationship with Perrot continued, and in 1850 she went to Russia where he was ballet master at St Petersburg. In 1854 she went to Poland (still in Russia then), where on becoming pregnant by a Prince Radziwiłł she retired from the stage. She spent many years living in Geneva and died there on 20th May 1899.
Grisi had a daughter Marie-June by Perrot in 1837, and Léontine by her Polish prince in 1853. Her cousin Giulia Grisi (1811-1869) was one of the preeminent singers of the day, creating leading roles in operas including Norma, Semiramide, I Capuletti ed i Montecchi, I Puritani, and Don Pasquale.
http://www.streetswing.com/histmai2/d2grisi1.htm shows her polka'ing with Perrot