Celia Franca in Giselle (1954). Photo by Ken Bell.

Our History

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The long-lasting partnership between Principal Dancers Lois Smith and David Adams began with the company’s first performance on November 12, 1951. The Peasant Pas De Deux from Act I was the National Ballet’s first version of Giselle performed by this famous pair.

Lois Smith and David Adams as Giselle and Albrecht in Giselle (ca. 1953). 

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Former Artistic Director and Principal Dancer Celia Franca was well known for her portrayal of both Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis and Giselle. In her official Canadian farewell performance she performed the role of Giselle on February 28, 1959.

Pointe shoes worn by Celia Franca (ca. 1959). 

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Desmond Heeley redesigned the sets and costumes for The National Ballet of Canada’s production of Giselle in 1970. A distinguished designer within the theatre community for over 60 years, Desmond Heeley’s costume and set sketches are renowned for their artistry.

Giselle, Act II costume sketch by Desmond Heeley (1970). 

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Evelyn Hart is recognized as a leading interpreter of Giselle and performed the role as a guest artist with the National Ballet between 1983 and 1996.  Known for her emotive performances, Ms. Hart was partnered by many dancers in the role of Albrecht, including Frank Augustyn, Tomas Schramek and Rex Harrington. 

Evelyn Hart as Giselle (ca. 1983). 

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Audience members were delighted when Principal Dancer Karen Kain recovered from a minor injury in time to perform the role of Giselle in 1989. Principal Dancer Rex Harrington who stepped in to replace another injured dancer, Frank Augustyn, partnered her.

The Toronto Sun article (November 3, 1989). 

Read the Toronto Sun article 

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Choreographer Sir Peter Wright returned in 2000 to stage Giselle. The National Ballet also holds Sir Wright’s The Mirror Walkers in its repertoire.

Aleksandar Antonijevic, Greta Hodgkinson and Sir Peter Wright rehearsing Giselle on the Hummingbird Centre stage (2000). 

Your Stories

Your story is our history! Share your treasured National Ballet memories.

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"One of the many memories from my 36 years as a musician with the company involves our beloved Associate Conductor, John Goss, who died tragically in 1986 in a traffic accident while vacationing in Barbados following a run of The Nutcracker.

While touring the east coast of Canada we were both attending a costume party for the dancers and musicians and John came dressed as a ‘backwards conductor’. I can’t remember exactly how he achieved this effect, but I presume he had on his tux jacket with the buttons at the back, or some such thing. We were touring Giselle, which features a short horn call in act one played in the pit and mimed on stage by Hilarion. Inspired by John’s choice of costume we conspired to play the horn call (which involves alternating two notes a fifth apart) actually ‘backwards’ at the next performance he was to conduct. Furthermore, to add to the effect, and to include his active participation in the ‘event’, he would turn completely away to cue me, in effect, conducting me ‘backwards’.

It seemed a good idea at the time, but as the moment approached the burden of responsibility began to weigh more heavily upon me. Not that the call was particularly difficult to play, but in its inverted ‘backward’ form, it did start on a higher note, and not the best note to hit every time on the french horn. The moment arrived, John turned away from me to conduct some phantom horn player on the other side of the pit, and I tooted away in reverse, wondering what was to become of us for our mischief that night. To my relief the altered call was a success, much to the undoubted confusion of my fellow musicians. While I’m sure they all noticed that something seemed ‘different’ that night, we’ll never know just how many members of the audience, or indeed the dancers were aware that they were there to experience the one and only ‘backwards’ Giselle horn call in dance history.

John was a wonderful human being, dedicated to the National Ballet, and all of us who knew him were incredibly saddened by his untimely passing, and will always miss the years we may have shared with him."

Mr. Gary Pattison, Orchestra Member, 1977 to present 


"I remember being a teenager in London, Ontario. I had grown to love the ballet by being taken to see performances of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake at the old Grand Theatre. There was one fall day when I was walking home from school and I saw a poster for an upcoming touring performance by the National Ballet. The poster was a picture of Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn in the first act of Giselle. I got so excited I raced home and begged my mother to buy me a ticket. She told me they were too expensive but if I really wanted one she would help me out if I earned half the cost on my own. I spent the next couple of weeks doing odd jobs around the neighbourhood and saving part of my lunch money each day until I had exactly half the cost of the ticket. My mother was true to her word and gave me the other half as well as permission to miss the first class of school so that I could go stand in line at the theatre for a ticket. The day the tickets went on sale I raced down to the Grand Theatre and was the first in line when the box office opened. I got my ticket for the opening night of Giselle, dead centre in the front row of the balcony. For weeks I waited for that performance and when the big night arrived I was so excited I could barely eat my dinner. I got dressed up in my best clothes and my parents drove me down to the theatre. I still remember the rush I felt as I finally entered the auditorium of that glorious old theatre and took my seat. Finally the lights dimmed and the ballet began. Veronica Tennant and Sergiu Stefanschi were the Principal Dancers at that performance and I remember how beautifully they danced together. The sets for the ballet looked like a faded postcard of the Romantic ballet period, especially the second act with its spooky forest scene. By the time of the big second act Pas de Deux, a hush had fallen over the theatre as the audience sat spellbound by the beauty of the dancing. That night changed my life and began my lifelong passion for the ballet in general and the National Ballet in particular. I have continued to be a loyal patron of the National Ballet and wish it well for the next 60 years."

Mr. William Rowcliffe, Audience Member, 40+ years 

"I have been an audience member for 60 years. I have seen the ballet at Eaton Auditorium, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the O'Keefe Centre and now the the most beautiful opera house the Four Seasons for the Performing Arts. I remember seeing Celia Franca dance in Giselle in the mad scene when she undid her hair - it was like she covered the stage with her hair. It was so dramatic. I remember seeing David Adams and Lois Smith, with Lois standing next to David on pointe doing her pirourettes barely touching him. I was there at the O'Keefe Centre on the night that Mikhail Baryshnikov defected. He did not come out to bow after his thrilling performance. The National Ballet has been a big  part of my life. I danced at Mildred Wickson's studio with Carol Chadwick teaching both myself and my daughters. My love of dance has been passed on to my granddaughters who are now both modern dancers and graduates from the Simon Fraser dance program in Vancouver."

- Ms. Vivian Rosenberg, Subscriber & Donor, 60+ years 

"It was about 1959, during Celia Franca's final performance of Giselle. It was also my last performance as I, a member of the Corps de Ballet, was leaving the company. The memory of tears streaming down my - and Miss Franca's - face is vivid all of these decades later. Along with the emotion at that time, how blessed I have always felt, to have shared that amazing experience with such an ICON of the Canadian ballet world."

- Mrs. Gloria Hutchinson, nee Bonnell, Alumni, Dancer 1956-1959 

"My wonderful memory is introducing my late husband to the ballet. His first production was Giselle when Rudolph Nureyev danced as a Guest Artist. It was such a fabulous performance and one that resulted in many years of wonderful evenings spent at the O'Keefe Centre enjoying Karen Kain, Frank Augustyn and many others. Giselle remained our favourite ballet and will always be very special to me."

- Mrs. Stella Clark, Audience Member 

"My favourite memory of The National Ballet of Canada is seeing Giselle during the National Ballet's first season in the Eaton Auditorium and realizing with delight that it was a Canadian, Lois Smith, dancing the lead role."

- James L. Donald, Audience Member, 50+ Years 


The ballet called Giselle
By: Cyril W. Beaumont. London: Princeton Book Company, 1988.
First published in 1944 this classic book remains the definitive work on one of the great ballets of the romantic period, with detailed discussions of the characters and their motives.

Ballet stories 
By: Joan Lawson. London: Ward Lock, 1978.
Fourteen of the most popular ballets throughout the world are here told as stories for children from the age of eight upwards. Brief historical notes give details of the music, choreography and performance of each ballet, and describe the origins of the tale on which it is based.

By: Geoffrey Ashton. London: Aurum Press, 1985.
Part of the “Stories of the ballets” series.

Giselle, or the Wilis 
By: Violette Verdy & Marcia Brown. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1970.
The tale of the ballet about the peasant girl who falls in love with a prince.


National Ballet’s Giselle: why the Wilis give you the willies.”
By: Michael Crabb. The Toronto Star, December 4, 2012.

"Behind the Scenes: The National Ballet of Canada rehearses for Giselle."
Photo essay by: Daniel Neuhaus. Toronto Life, December 5, 2012.


Creole Giselle 
By: Dance Theatre of Harlem, 1987.
Dance Theater of Harlem Founder Arthur Mitchell has set the ballet in 1841 Lousiana at a time when social status among free blacks was measured by how far removed one's family was from slavery; the community's "aristocrats" looked down on those whose immediate family had been enslaved. Giselle faces the same social obstacles and heartbreaking rejection by Albert and his family as their classical counterparts. Giselle is danced by Virginia Johnson and Eddie J. Shellman co-stars as Albert.

By: The National Ballet of Canada. A CBC Television production, 1962.
Host Barry Morse introduces The National Ballet of Canada's production of Giselle, the story of a peasant girl in love with a German nobleman, the Duke of Albrecht, who is disguised as a peasant. When he betrays her, she goes mad and dies, but returns to earth as a spirit.

By: The National Ballet of Canada. A CBC Television production, 1976.
Canada's Beloved prima ballerina Karen Kain and premier danseur Frank Augustyn star in this timeless tale of doomed love and eternal longing. The romantic ballet tells the story of the peasant girl Giselle who goes mad with grief and dies upon learning that Albrecht, her peasant lover, has deceived her and is not really a nobleman. In the ballet’s haunting second act, the Willis, maidens who have betrayed and died before their wedding day, attempt to dance Albrecht to his death. But the power of love prevails and Giselle, now a Wili herself, saves him.

Spring Showcase 2012 repertoire: Giselle 
By: Canada’s National Ballet School, 2012.
Canada's National Ballet School's annual performance, Spring Showcase is held each May. History of Ballet teacher, Cheryl Belkin-Epstein provides inside knowledge for each of the works being performed in 2012.


Giselle Colouring Page