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If you know some other interesting books about the history
of the POB, please email me about it!
- Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris (Ivor Guest, 1976)
- Histoire du Ballet (Fernandino Reyna)
Dance at the Court (1661-1715)
One can consider that the real beginning of the Paris Opera Ballet
occured in 1661, when the French king Louis XIV decided to
create the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Academy
of Dance), , which included 13 professionnal dancers,
and which aimed at rétablir la danse dans sa perfection
(to restablish the perfection of dance). Louis XIV also
created the Royal Academy of
Music in 1671, and the Dance School of the Opera in 1713, lead
by Fraincine and Dumont: it was open to boys and girls
from poor families, aged 9 to 13, and existed since then
without interruption (it's the oldest dance school
Click here to see a portrait of
At that time, the Surintendant des ballets du Roi
was Charles-Louis Beauchamp (born in Versailles in 1636),
who composed all the ballets which were danced at the
Court (on some musics of Lully).
His successor was Louis-Guillaume Pécourt
(1653-1729), then Blondi (1675-1739),
who was the teacher of Marie Sallé and la Mariette.
Among the remarkable dance professors of this time were
also Jean Ballon (1676-1739), praised for his qualities
of "danseur noble", and Lestang (?-1739), Louis Lasserre
who was ordonnateur des fêtes et ballets de Cour
Mademoiselle La Fontaine (1665-1736) was the first woman
who danced on the stage of the Academy of Music,
when she premiered Le Triomphe de l'Amour.
Then came other famous ballerinas such as Marie-Thérèse
de Subligny (1666-1736), Mademoiselle Prevost
and Mademoiselle Desmartins. The most famous
male dancers of that period were Michel
Blondy and Jean Balon.
The King Louis XIV himself danced quite often in the
ballets of the Court; in the Ballet de la Nuit in
1653, he danced many roles including an hour,
a star and the Sun, and in 1685,
aged 47, he still danced the role of a nymph in L'Eglogue de
Among the most successful ballets of Beauchamp
were Alcidiane (1658), la Raillerie (1659),
l'Impatience (1661), les Fâcheux,
Deguisées (1664), le Mariage forcé (after Molière),
le Palais d'Alcine and Les Plaisirs de l'Ile enchantée.
In 1713, two years before his death, Louis XIV published
a Règlement concernant l'Opéra which
made the Opera become a state institution, with
a permanent company of 20 dancers (10 men, 10 women).
Rococo times (1715-1765)
In 1763, the Opera, which was small, old and in a rather
bad shape, was burnt (because of "God's justice",
according to Voltaire). Then the dancers settled for a while in
the Palais des Tuileries, and later went (in 1770) to the new
theater of the Palais Royal.
In 1760, a book which was to have a very strong influence
on the history of ballet was published: it was Jean-Georges
Noverre Lettres sur la danse et sur les ballets
(Letters about dance and about ballets).
In 1770, the ballet master of the POB was Gaetan Vestris.
He was not a good choreographer, but had taken some
lessons with Noverre in Stuttgart, and staged some excerpts
of Noverre's Medea and Jason in 1770,
and the whole ballet in 1775.
At that moment, the main dancers of the company
were Maximilien Gardel and his brother Pierre Gardel,
and Auguste Vestris, the son of Gaetan Vestris
and Marie Allard, also known as "Vestr'Allard",
and also Marie Allard, Madeleine Guimard and
Anne Heinel (who first didn't get on well with
Vestris, but later got married with him).
These dancers, especially the Gardels and Madeleine
Guimard, were very powerful at that time. Noverre
became the ballet master of the POB in 1776,
thanks to the Austrian empress Marie-Therese
who had admired his works in Vienna and
had spoken about him to her daughter the
queen Marie-Antoinette. But the dancers
didn't accept Noverre's new ideas, and rejected him.
He staged a few ballets, such as
Apelles et Campaspe (1776), Les caprices
de Galathée (17776), Les
Horaces (1777), and Les petits riens
(in 1778, on an original music of Mozart),
but had to leave the company in 1781.
The Gardels (1781-1820)
In 1781 the Opera theater, which had been built at the Palais Royal only
11 years ago, burnt. It happened while a ballet was performed, and it
to Dauberval's clever mind that a catastrophe was avoided.
Then a new Opera was built at the boulevard de la Porte Saint-Martin,
by the architect Lenoir. The queen had promised that Lenoir
would be awarded the cordon de Saint-Michel if the Opera
was ready before october 31, and Lenoir won this
At that time, the ballet masters were Maximilien Gardel and Jean
Dauberval. But they didn't get on well together,
and Dauberval was in love with Mademoiselle Théodore,
a dancer of the company who had bad relationships with the
direction. She left the company in 1783, and
Dauberval followed her. It was a great loss
for the Paris Opera Ballet, since Dauberval was
one of the best choreographers of his time,
and it was in Bordeaux that he created his best ballets,
including La fille mal
gardée in 1789.
After the departure of Dauberval, the ballet was lead
by Maximilien Gardel and his younger brother Pierre Gardel.
Maximilien Gardel wasn't as good a choreographer as Noverre,
but he had good relationships with the dancers, and
created light, pleasant ballets which were successful,
such as La chercheuse d'esprit
(1778), Ninette à la cour
(1778) and Le déserteur
(1786), often with Madeleine Guimard in the main
role. But he died in 1787 because of a small
His successor was his brother Pierre, who was to become
the main French choreographer and ballet master for
more than 35 years (he officially retired in 1820,
but still worked with the company until 1829).
He survived all the political changes in France
at that time (French Revolution, 1st Empire,
reign of Louis XVIII...) and enabled the POB
to enlarge its repertory and become more famous
His main ballets were Télémaque
(1790), Psyché, Le
jugement de Pâris (1793), all inspired
from Greek or Roman mythology, and La
dansomanie (1800). Psyché
was danced 564 times between 1790 and 1829,
it remained the most danced ballet of the POB
repertory for decades, and still ranked only 2nd
in 1976, just after Coppélia...
Gardel's wife, Marie Miller, was one of the main ballerinas
of the POB at that time, with Emilie Bigottini
and Victoire Saulnier. (The main
male dancers were Auguste Vestris, Louis Milon,
Charles Duport, and Jean Aumer.)
In 1820, the Opera was obliged to move once more:
the Duke of Berry (the King's nephew)
was killed just when he was going out of the theater
after a performance, and the archbishop of
Paris accepted to give him the "last sacrements"
only if this place would not be a theater any longer.
So on the following year, all the dancers and singers
had to go to a new opera, built on the Rue Le Peletier.
It was supposed to be a temporary place, but in fact
they stayed there for more than 50 years.
On November 21 1830(?), the parisian audience
was striked when Marie Taglioni danced in the third
act of Meyerbeer's opera Robert le Diable,
on a choreography of Coralli. She danced a damned nun,
at moonshine, in some decors of Ciceri after the
cloister of Saint-Trophime. She was the first dancer
wearing pointe shoes, instead of the high heel
shoes which were used previously.
On march 12, 1832, she premiered La
Sylphide, on a choreography of her
father Philippe Taglioni.
The last great event of the period of romantic ballet
premiered in 1842, on a plot of Théophile Gautier,
with a choreography of Jean Perrot and Jean
At that time the most famous ballerinas were Marie
Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Elssler and
Lucile Grahn. Elssler premiered Coralli's
Le diable boîteux in 1836
at the Paris Opera, and Grisi also premiered
his La Péri.
Blasis and Saint-Léon
Carlo Blasis, born in 1797 in Napoli (Italy), studied with Pierre
Gardel and started his career as a dancer at the Paris Opera.
He was to become later a ballet master, a choreographer,
a composer, and a ballet historian (his Code
de Terpsichore, published in 1820 in Milano,
still is considered as the basis of academic style).
In 1837, he became the director of the dance school
of the Scala Theater in Milano, and his school
quickly became famous in all Europe. Among
his students were Fanny Cerrito, Amalia Ferraris,
Some of his students became dancers of the
Paris Opera: Olimpia Priora, Nadjeda Bogdanova
(from Russia), Caroline Rosati, Amalia Ferraris...
In 1870 was premiered Saint-Léon's
which was to become one of the most popular ballets of the
POB's history. Saint-Léon expected Adèle Grantzowa
to premiere this ballet, but she unfortunately got ill
at that moment, so that it was premiered by the young Giuseppina
Bozzachi. But some tragic events happened: there
was a war between France and Prussia(?), Napoleon III's
Empire ended, the Opera was closed and Saint-Léon
died from a heart attack, aged 49. A few months later,
the poor Giuseppina died from illness, on the very day
of her 17th birthday.
A period of decadence
here to see Degas' "La classe de danse"
In october 1873, the opera of the Rue Le Peletier was burnt.
Then the dancers had to wait until the Opera built by Charles
Garnier was opened, on January 5 1875.
The main French ballerina of that period was Léontine Beaugrand,
who premiered Mérante's Le Fandango
in 1877, and retired in 1886; but most of the dancers
came from Italy, such as Rita Sangalli who premiered
Sylvia in 1876, Virginia
Zucchi or Julia Subra.
A period of transition (1908-1929)
In 1908, a new director, the composer André Messager,
was chosen, and the new ballet master was
Leo Staats. In 1909 he created Javotte,
on a music of Saint-Saëns, starring Carlotta
Zambelli in the main role.
But a striking event happened in the world of dance:
it was the first season in Paris of Diaghilev's
Ballets Russes. Dancers such as Vaslaw Nijinsky,
Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina immediately
became very famous in Paris. It had some influence on the
Paris Opera Ballet: the level of male dancers, which was
very slow, slightly increased, and a new Russian ballet master,
Ivan Clustine, was hired. The Russian dancers Olga Preobrajenska
and Matilda Kchessinska were invited at the Opera,
but the audience didn't seem very interested...
In 1913, Clustine created Suite de Danses,
on a music of Chopin, which was to become quite
successful (it was danced more than 330 times until 1976).
The Paris Opera also hosted some seasons of the Ballets Russes:
in 1910, were danced there The Firebird and Giselle,
in 1914 Fokine's La Légende de Joseph...
In 1914, Jacques Rouché became the new director of the Opera. However,
the Opera had to be closed until 1916 because of
World War I. In 1917, Staats created La reine des abeilles,
on Stravinsky's Scherzo Fantastique, and in 1918 Rameau's opera-ballet
Castor and Pollux was restaged, with a choreohraphy
of Nicloas Guerra.
Leo Staats restaged Sylvia,
with Albert Aveline and Carlotta Zambelli in the main
roles, then created Cydalise et le chèvre-pied
and La nuit ensorcelée in 1923, and Soir
de fête in 1925.
Serge Lifar (1930-1958)
Serge Lifar, born in Ukraine in 1905, had started his career
with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes,
as a principal dancer. After Diaghilev's death in 1929,
he met Jacques Rouché, who was the director of the
Paris Opera. Rouché wanted to have a new version
of Beethoven's only ballet, Les Créatures de Prométhée.
Balanchine was supposed to do the choreography, but
he fell ill, and so Lifar replaced him. It was the beginning
of a long career.
In 1935, Lifar created Icare, one of
his best ballets.
In 1941, he created Istar for the young
dancer Yvette Chauviré. She became a principal
dancer of the company, and was later the most famous
French dancer of her time.
In 1943, Lifar created Suite en blanc
on a music of Lalo, and then Le
Chevalier et la Damoiselle and Joan de Zarissa.
The main ballerinas of this time were Yvette Chauviré, Solange
Schwarz, Suzanne Lorcia, Lycette Darsonval... Lifar
danced most of the male roles, with also Serge Peretti.
In 1945, Lifar had to leave the POB because of political
reasons, he later came back from 1947 to 1958.
In 1947, Balanchine restaged some of his ballets
(including Serenade and
and creates Palais de Cristal, which was to become one of the most successful ballets
of the company.
In 1952, Harald Lander restaged Galeotti's Les Caprices de
Cupidon and created Etudes,
a striking homage to classical style.
New étoiles between 1964 and 1971:
Cyril Atanassoff (1964), Jean-Pierre Bonnefous (1965),
Nanon Thibon (1965), Noëlla Pontois (1968), Wilfride Piollet (1969),
Georges Piletta (1969), Michaël Denard,
Directors of dance:
-1958-1961: George Skibine
-1962-1969: Michel Descombey
-1969-1970: John Taras
-1970-1971: Claude Bessy
-1971-1978: Raymond Franchetti
New etoiles: Patrice Bart (1972),
Ghislaine Thesmar (1972), Jean Guizerix (1973),
Dominique Khalfouni (1976), Charles
Jude (1976), Florence Clerc, Claude de Vulpian (1978).
-1978-1980: Violette Verdy
New etoile: Patrick Dupond (1980)
-1980-1983: Rosella Hightower
The new "étoiles" were
Jean-Yves Lormeau and
(1981), Monique Loudières (1982) and Françoise Legrée (1983).
Rudolf Nureyev became the director of dance in 1983.
His strong personality caused some conflicts with some
of the principal dancers of the company, but he also helped
the career of some young dancers: the new "étoiles"
were Sylvie Guillem in 1984,
Isabelle Guérin and
Laurent Hilaire in 1985,
Manuel Legris in 1986,
Elisabeth Maurin in 1988 and
Kader Belarbi in 1989.
Among the new ballets of the repertory were some ballets ofAntony Tudor (
Dark Elegies, Leaves are fading,
Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane,
and the premiere of Béjart's
Arepo (1986), Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987), Neumeier's Magnificat
(1987) and Wilson's new version of Le Martyre de
Saint-Sebastien (1989). Nureyev also
staged his own new versions of Raymonda (1983),
Lake (1985), The Sleeping Beauty
and The Nutcracker.
Patrick Dupond, who's been a principal
dancer of the company since 1980, became the director of dance in 1990.
Among the most striking events of his directorship were
some collaborations with Jerome Robbins (staging ballets such as
pieces, In G major,
Dances at a gathering,
Moves, The Concert...) and
Roland Petit, a new production of
Giselle and some premieres
of contemporary pieces of Odile Duboc, Daniel Larrieu, Angelin Preljocaj
and Jean-Claude Gallotta.
Dupond organized a striking "défilé"
of the company, including all the former principals
still alive. Rudolf Nureyev
staged a magnificent production of La
Bayadère in 1993, just before his death. The
new ballets in the repertory
also included Mats Ek's Giselle,
Roland Petit's Les Forains
and Le Rendez-vous,
Massine's Le Tricorne,
Theme and Variations, Martha
Graham's Temptations of the Moon...
There was also the nomination of 3 new "étoiles":
Marie-Claude Pietragalla in 1990, and Fanny Gaïda,
Carole Arbo and
Nicolas Le Riche in 1993.
new "premiers danseurs" were Lionel Delanoë, José Martinez (in 1992),
Agnès Letestu (in 1993) and Delphine Moussin (in 1994).
Since 1995 the new director of dance is Brigitte Lefèvre,
a former dancer of the company (and a former foundator
of the Théâtre du Silence with the choreographer Jacques
The last new étoiles were José Martinez and
Agnès Letestu (in 1997). Yann Bridard, Aurélie Dupont,
Jean-Guillaume Bart and Ghislaine Fallou became "premiers danseurs"
in december 1996.