Live your Dream: Marius Petipa and Carlotta Grisi - legends from the past



 Marius Petipa and Carlotta Grisi

Grisi, one of the most well-known of the Italian ballerinas, was known for her partnerships both with Marius and Lucien Petipa, but her partnership with Marius Petipa led not only to beauty onstage, but also to choreographic genius. Grisi was the inspiration for the character Giselle in Petipa's version of the classic ballet Giselle. It was this inspiration that brought Petipa's choreography, and Grisi's exceptional talent, to an even higher level.





Marius Petipa is known as the father of modern Classical Ballet and had a career, mostly spent in the Russian Imperial Ballet, that lasted nearly sixty years. Marius Petipa was both a dancer and later a choreographer and is best remembered for masterpieces which are still mainstays of ballet such as The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Don Quixote. His contributions to modern classical ballet have been vast and this is in part due not only to his long career but to his experience with all elements of production. From dancing to designing as well as researching, Marius Petipa was able to revolutionize ballet, especially in Russia where he served as ballet master for the Imperial Ballet.

Marius Petipa was born in Marseilles, France in 1822 to an actress mother and a father who was a well-known choreographer and dancer. The Petipas encouraged both of their sons to take on theatre or dance professionally and Marius’ younger brother, Lucien, succeeded in dance at an early age while Marius scorned it in favor of other pursuits. Even though it was not immediately his passion, Marius did begin dancing at the age of 7, mostly because of his parent’s desire to see him enter the field. Shortly after this, while still a child, he starred in one of his father’s productions and thus began his career as a dancer and later, a choreographer. Although the family might have enjoyed a great deal of success in France, the Belgian Revolution forced the family out to move to Nantes, where they stayed for a few years. It was during this time (around 1838) that Marius became a principal dancer at the ballet {read more


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. {read more}




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.


Yuri Burlaka andVasily Medvedev's revival and reconstruction of Marius Petipa's final version of Jules Perrot and Cesare Pugni's "La Esmeralda" for the Bolshoi Ballet. One of my favorites, this particular production premiered on Christmas day, 2009. See full length act I and act II.  

Wishing you a happy Monday, filled with beauty and inspiration!