Carlotta Grisi, ballerina
(Compiled February 2001)
Caronne Adele Josephine Marie Grisi was born in Visinida, Upper Istria, Italy June 18, 1819. Her mother was named Maria, and her father, Vincenzo Grisi, worked for the public surveyor's department. Her cousin was the opera prima donna Giulia Grisi. Carlotta Grisi studied at the Ballet School of La Scala Milan from about 1826.
Already, at 10 years old, Grisi was a dancer in the corps de ballet of La Scala. She appeared in child's roles in ballets such as Ipermestra in which she played Piety and as a peasant girl in Le Mine di Polonia. She was nicknamed "the little Herberle" after the celebrated Viennese ballerina Therese Herberle.
At age 14 she accompanied her sister Ernesta (an opera singer who later married Théophile Gautier) on a tour of Italy. Ernesta sung in the opera, and Carlotta was hired as a dancer. They traveled to Italy as a part of this tour, and it was in Naples in 1834 that she met Jules Perrot. Grisi was not only gifted with an aptitude for the dance but also with a pleasing voice. She received tantalizing offers to expand her singing career. Perrot assured Grisi that her gift for dancing was so great that she should not pursue her parents' wishes of becoming an opera singer. His argument must have been strong, as she committed to becoming his first pupil.
Perrot not only became Grisi's dance partner, he fell in love with Carlotta. They danced together at her London debut in 1836. There followed successful tours in Europe including Munich, Milan, Vienna and Paris. Although they were never actually married, Carlotta assumed the name Madame Perrot from 1836. They had a daughter, Marie-Julie, who was born in 1837.
Grisi had danced in Paris before but her true debut came at the Théâte de la Renaissance in 1840, where she sang in addition to dancing. Of her two talents it was her dancing that was recognized; however, Perrot's choreography received the greatest attention. The intervention of Grisi's family led to her engagement at the Paris Opéra in 1841. Even though there was no job there for Perrot, he was allowed to create choreography for Grisi. It was at this time that Théophile Gautier saw Grisi's dancing and wrote the scenario for Giselle for her. It would be the first full-length ballet she would dance in Paris. The ballet established Grisi as a star. Her salary grew from 5,000 francs to 12,000 in1842 and 20,000 by 1844, with additional performance fees on top. It also marked the beginning of a change in her relationship with Perrot.
Grisi appeared frequently in London during her holidays from the Opéra between 1842 and 1851, premiering Giselle there in1842. London was also the venue for the famous Pas de quatre that Perrot staged for the four greatest ballerinas of the day: Marie Taglioni, Fanny Cerrito, Lucile Grahn and Grisi. Given the professional rivalries of these four, this was no mean feat for Perrot. Grisi's last appearance in Paris came in 1849 in the ballet La Filleule de fées with music by Adam The choreography, by Perrot, is often considered to be his finest. In honor of her artistry the Paris Opéra placed a bust of Grisi alongside those of Taglioni and Emma Livry.
When Perrot traveled to Russia in 1850 to become ballet master in St. Petersburg, Grisi joined him and they once again worked together. The first Giselle in Russia had been danced by Fanny Elssler, and so the initial reaction to Grisi's "new" interpretation of the role was not enthusiastic. However, over time the Russians appreciated her talents. She was ballerina of the Imperial Theaters in Russia from 1850 to 1853, working not only with Perrot but also Joseph Mazilier who staged La Jolie Fille de Gand and Vert-Vert on her.
She retired from the stage in 1854 at age 34 to pass a peaceful retirement with family and friends. She had a second daughter, Léontine Grisi, with Prince Léon Radziwill.