The Instant Ballerina

taglioni-4I spend some of my free time researching in dance history, and wrote this piece for myself/Bourgeon a few years ago. It’s about a single transformative year in the life of Marie Taglioni. It’s now reprinted on Dance Enthusiast, which you can see here, and here’s an excerpt.

“Despite the advantage of possibly the best training in the world, at the age of sixteen Marie’s ability remained hidden. Coulon, as reported in the Paris Opera Director Louis Veron’s Memoirs years later, evaluated Marie in 1820 as “la petite bossue” (the little hunchback), in full remarking, “When will that little hunchback ever learn to dance!” And yet just two years later, in 1822, Marie debuted successfully in Vienna. Considering the Taglioni phenomenon is illuminating in part for the understanding she provides of what one has to give – and be given – to transform oneself from hunchback to Sylphide.

The instant creation of a ballerina occurred over the course of the year 1821. During this year Filippo trained Marie privately, in Vienna, guiding her through three classes a day. Sophie Taglioni is critically responsible for her daughter’s accomplishment, as it was her actions that necessitated her husband’s extreme, and hands on, training of their daughter.

Filippo did not live with the family in Paris. The couple exchanged regular letters, in which Sophie detailed the progress of their progeny in Coulon’s classes (her younger brother Paul, who would become her partner for much of her performing career, was also a ballet student at the Opera school.) For years Sophie sent letters to her husband greatly exaggerating Coulon’s assessment of Marie. Filippo was finally so motivated by the lies that he arranged for his daughter to debut, in January of 1822 in Vienna. Sophie was grief-stricken upon receipt of her husband’s ‘debut’ letter, knowing full well that her child would be ridiculed, and her husband rebuked. Following receipt of the letter Sophie ran to Coulon for advice and received back: ‘You wish for my advice? You have it madame: You should make your daughter an embroidress, for she will never be a dancer!’

Filippo must have suspected that the reports of Marie’s progress were artificial, as he arranged for his daughter to travel to Vienna a full year prior to her performance. Upon arrival her father gave her a private class, so that he could assess what needed to be worked on in the months prior to the debut. According to Marie’s memoir, after sitting silently for a few moments he informed her that she must be prepared to work harder than anyone had ever worked. All evidence points toward the fact that Monsieur Taglioni was not speaking hyperbolically. With full understanding of the many strengths required of a ballerina, it seems clear that in one year Filippo forced Marie to transform herself from Bossue to Ballerina. Sequestered in apartments at a distance from the theater, Filippo hid Marie – and her dancing – prior to the debut. Somewhat miraculously, the reviews were positive, though not glowing…. ”

(C) Robert Bettmann, 2010

Again, read the whole thing on Dance Enthusiast, here.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.