The Buzz, 3-30: Our Forgotten
On the Eve of her Bicentennial, Taglioni's Gravestone Crumbles;
Will her Legacy?
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- This clear,
brisk, early Spring morning at the Montmartre Cemetery reveals two
large terra cotta pots of fresh flowers and plants on the grave
of Louise Weber, not far from the cemetery's entrance. A metal post
projecting from the pot reads "Le Moulin Rouge." The celebrated
birthplace of the Cancan makes sure there are always fresh flowers
on the grave of Weber, who, as the tomb's inscription notes, was
better known as "La Goule" and the "creatrice de French Cancan."
The flowers signal that the Moulin Rouge is a living institution
which reveres and respects its heritage. Continue up the road a
spell, turn left on the rue Hector-Berlioz, past the graves of Francois
Truffaut and Heinrich Heine, and follow it to the rue Samson where,
hidden away a few yards behind the ornate grave of Vaslav Nijinsky,
you'll find the deteriorating final
resting place of Marie Taglioni, the first dancer to
use pointe artistically. A detached plaque, broken in half at the
"T" in Taglioni, remembers her with the words "a sa mere bien-aimee"
(to his/her beloved mother). April 23 marks the bicentennial of
the birth of the mother of classical ballet. But does anybody care?
Not, apparently, the most immediate beneficiaries of her legacy,
the Paris Opera Ballet and School, which, at presstime, have no
commemoration planned, save a reprise of Pierre Lacotte's reconstruction
of Phillipe Taglioni's "La Sylphide" (although Taglioni is not credited
as the original choreographer on the Opera's web site), the work
in which his daughter performed her miracle.
Here at the Dance Insider,
we thought we could organize a celebration of Taglioni's legacy
to honor her on her bicentennial; but no sponsors came forward.
Not the ballet companies to whom she left that legacy, not the pointe
shoe company owners who, one could say, owe their livelihoods to
her. We also asked the DI's readers to send pointe shoes for her
grave, our goal being to pile them so high on the grave that a visitor
to Nijinsky's tomb (clearly marked with, among other things, a life-sized
Petrouchka sculpture) would see the pointe shoes and investigate.
We collected about 17 pairs, including six from Bloch and contributions
from Anna Arias Rubio, Cynthia Quinn and Quinn Pendleton, Maina
Gielgud and even a pair signed in Labanotation from our webmistress,
Robin Hoffman. We could still use more, but we are running out of
time. (Write me at email@example.com
When we first put out
the call for pointe shoes, a reader wrote in to point out that the
shoes would be better put to use donated to the Cuban National Ballet;
after all, Taglioni wouldn't have any use for them. What's at stake
here, though, is not just a neglected grave but ballet's and dance's
(remember, you moderns and post-moderns, at the time, Taglioni's
innovation was the same sort of expansion of kinetic possibilities
that you strive for) self-respect and thus the respect it garners
in the general cultural and popular discourse. If we don't respect
our history and revere our art's ancestors, why should the general
public respect dance at all?
I've been pondering
why dance is the least respected of the arts. The answer isn't too
hard to find; in the popular view, it's an activity associated with
women and, in that context, seen by most more as a natural, even
sexual extension of 'the fairer sex' than an art form. And, notwithstanding
the recognition accorded to Anna Pavlova and Margot Fonteyn, the
more celebrated dancers and choreographers in the wider (beyond
dance) media are men: Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Nijinsky, Balanchine.
Even if the attention given to Balanchine and Frederick Ashton in
this their centennial year is deserved, let's face it: If there
hadn't been a Taglioni, there wouldn't have been a Balanchine. Indeed,
it is Taglioni and her descendents, ever ready to attempt the heretofore
impossible, who enable choreographers to expand their and the art's
Now it's time to give
back. Before long, unless something is done, the already detached
tombstone will crumple into dust or be stolen, and no one will know
who lies buried in that grave. Her name will continue to slide into
oblivion, and the respect of dance for itself and by others with
To read more about Taglioni, check Tobi Tobias's Vignette "Taglioni's
Shoe," by clicking here.
For photographs of Taglioni's grave with the pointe shoes dedicated
by DI readers, click here.