Grisi, Carlotta (1819–1899)

views updated

Grisi, Carlotta (1819–1899)

Italian ballerina of the Romantic period who created the role of Giselle . Born on June 28, 1819, in Visinada, Italy; sister of Ernesta Grisi; died in 1899; cousin of Giulia Grisi (1811–1869) and Giuditta Grisi (1805–1840); children: (with Jules Perrot) one daughter, Marie-Julie; (with Prince Léon Radziwill) one daughter Ernestine.

Born into the celebrated Italian theatrical family, Carlotta Grisi began studying ballet and singing at Milan's school of La Scala as a child and joined the corps de ballet at the age of ten. At age 14, while performing in Naples, she met the celebrated dancer and choreographer Jules Perrot who became her teacher and later her lover. In 1840, they made their debut together at the Renaissance Theater in Paris, in a gypsy comedy-ballet called Le Zingaro, in which Grisi both sang and danced. The following year, she was contracted by the Paris Opéra where she first appeared in Donizetti's La Favorita with Lucien Petipa. Her talent, as well as her stunning red hair and violet eyes, enchanted poet and critic Théophile Gautier, who sang her praises in the press and also became her ardent admirer.

Although Gautier's passion for Grisi was not reciprocated (he later had two children with Grisi's sister Ernesta Grisi ), his love for her was by all accounts ongoing. She inspired the ballet Giselle, which he wrote for her in 1841, in collaboration with Vernoy de Saint-Georges (libretto) and Adolphe Adam (music). It became her most famous role, although she was notable in La Péri (1843), La Esmeralda (1844), and Paquita (1846). Grisi was also one of the celebrated quartet in Perrot's Pas de Quatre (1845), appearing with Maria Taglioni, Fanny Cerrito , and Lucile Grahn . Known for her versatility, Grisi made several triumphant tours throughout Europe and made her debut at Saint Petersburg Imperial Theater in Giselle in 1850.

Grisi's personal life was complicated by the attentions of many men. She was Perrot's mistress (never his wife), and the mother of his daughter, Marie-Julie Perrot . (Confusion about the status of Grisi's relationship to Perrot may have arisen from the fact that when they initially danced together, she was billed as Mme Perrot. As a result, critics often referred to them as man and wife.) By 1842, she had left Perrot for a romantic interlude with her new dancing partner Lucien Petipa. At age 34, Grisi retired from dancing

to have a second child, Ernestine, by yet another longtime admirer, Prince Léon Radziwill, a Polish noble who provided her with a lovely home in Switzerland. Grisi remained friends with Gautier until his death in 1872, and he often visited her bringing news of Paris and the ballet. Carlotta Grisi died in 1899, a month short of her 80th birthday. Remembered primarily for her triumph in the first Paris performance of Giselle, Grisi may have been the first ballerina to have used a boxed slipper for dancing on point.


Migel, Parmenia. The Ballerinas. NY: Macmillan, 1972.

Richardson, Joanna. Judith Gautier. NY: Franklin Watts, 1987.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts