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Flash Journal, 11-4: Grave Matters
An All-Saints Day Visit to Taglioni's Real Grave

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- On a drizzly, stark gray morning -- no, not yesterday, dance insider, but Monday, All-Saints Day -- the Paris Opera Ballet's Sophie Parcen and I placed pointe shoes and flowers, including red roses, on the real grave of Marie Taglioni, the pointe shoes being the first indication that there lies our first grand ballerina, the first to use pointe to artistic ends. The shoes came from Mademoiselle Parcen, an exquisite dancer from Hungary whose determination to preserve, restore, and celebrate Taglioni's continuing legacy has inspired me; from the equally determined and talented New York-based dancer and dance notator Robin Hoffman, this publication's art director and webmistress; and from our equally inspiring and determined dancer colleague Tim Heathcote and the Bloch shoe company in Australia. The ballerina belongs to all of us, and it was in the name of dancers and the dance community around the world that we made this pilgrimage and homage -- just the beginning of our efforts to preserve and celebrate this essential dancer, truly the font of our field.

The grave is in Pere Lachaise, one of Paris's and the world's grandest cemeteries. A couple of weeks earlier, Mademoiselle Parcen and I had been guided to the grave by Pierre Lacotte, the eminent Taglioni expert who first revealed, at a Dance Insider / Italian Institute conference, that, contrary to the cemetery map, Marie (also known as Maria) Taglioni is not buried at the Montmartre cemetery in the grave that bears her name. (It's her mother, Sophia Taglioni.)

All-Saints Day is the day when most French prefer to visit their cemeteries and the loved ones entombed there. Entering Pere Lachaise by the main entrance on the Boulevard de Menilmontant, on the winding climb up to Taglioni's grave we passed, among others, the mausoleum of Eloise and Abelard, complete with life-sized statues in repose of the legendary lovers on top of their graves, under a grand canopy.

Taglioni's grave is off the rue Pacthod in region 94 on the cemetery map, up the hill from Edith Piaf and down the road from the Columbarium which houses neighbors Isadora Duncan and Alwin Nikolais. Up the road a bit are several monuments to those deported to the Nazi death camps. On Pacthod, we turned left at a grave marked Gauthier down a narrow path where we found Taglioni on the right side.

The immaculate sandstone-colored tombstone is decorated with a large cross on its surface.

On the left side of the cross, in descending order, are inscribed the following names and accompanying information. (I've identified them in parenthesis; decidee or decide mean 'deceased.')

Comte Gilbert de Voisins
Georges Philippe Marie
Decede a Marseille
le 14 Novembre 1897
(Taglioni's son; she was married to the Comte Gilbert de Voisins, whose name Geroges Philippe Marie continues.)

Comtesse Gilbert de Voisins
Sozonga Ralli
Decedee a Paris
le 25 Avril 1906
(Ralli, i.e. the Comtesse, was Georges Philippe Marie's wife and thus Taglioni's daughter-in-law.)

Centered at the base of the cross, below the columns of names on the left and right, is written:

Comte Gilbert de Voisins
Decede a Paris
le 8 Decembre 1939
(Augusto was Taglioni's grandson, the son of Georges Philippe Marie and Sozonga.)

On the right side of the cross, also in descending order, we find:

Comtesse Gilbert de Voisins
Marie Taglioni
Decedee a Marseille
le 2 Avril 1884

Comtesse Gilbert de Voisins
Louise de Heredia
Decedee a Paris
le 10 Decembre 1930
(Louise was Augusto's wife.)

Taglioni's husband -- from whom she was legally separated -- is not in the grave.

Here's what happened, according to cemetery records and to Lacotte:

After Louise died in 1930 and Augusto prepared to bury her, he purchased the plot in Pere Lachaise and decided to install not just his wife, but his father, mother, and grandmother there as well, followed by himself when he died in 1939. In 1930 or '31, he had Taglioni and her son moved from Marseille to Paris.

Because de Heredia, a poet, was a member of the Academie Francaise, that august institution has charge of the grave.

As previously revealed by the DI, as recently as 1990, the city officials of Marseille had no idea where Taglioni was. At some point in the last 100 years, the Montmartre cemetery, viewing the plaque "Marie Taglioni / a sa mere bien aimee" (to her beloved mother) on the tomb of Taglioni's mother, Sophia, began to believe that Taglioni was there, its own records to the contrary, and placed her name on the cemetery map. Serge Lifar may have believed the same when he had Vaslav Nijinsky moved to Montmartre 60-some years ago, installed just a few graves away from Sophia Taglioni. Eventually cemetery officials took Marie Taglioni's name off the paper map given out to visitors, but her name is still, at last viewing, on the metal maps posted around the cemetery.

Meanwhile, while Taglioni's name is indeed written on the Pere Lachaise grave where rests her corpse, there is absolutely no indication of who she was, neither on the grave nor on that cemetery's map of famous 'residents.' The Dance Insider's next step, working with Pierre Lacotte, Sophie Parcen, and the Italian Institute, will be to rectify this, so that dancers and the larger dance community know exactly where to go to rend homage to this founder, and so that the rest of the world knows who's there; who she was; why she matters; and why the field which attempts to carry forth her legacy is still relevant.

To find out how you can become involved, please e-mail me at paul@danceinsider.com.

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