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Flash Birthday Card, 4-26: Home
Bonne Anniversaire #201, Marie Taglioni

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- When Marie Taglioni authority Pierre Lacotte interrupted my presentation last fall on Dance Insider readers' campaign to place pointe shoes on Taglioni's deteriorating grave at the Montmartre Cemetery to announce, "It's not her grave, it's her mother's. She's in Pere Lachaise," I have to admit that as the audience at the Italian Institute, which was co-sponsoring the Marie Taglioni bicentennial conference with the Dance Insider, let out a collective gasp, I initially felt deflated. (Not to mention deceived; according to the official map of the Montmartre Cemetery, it was indeed Marie Taglioni who was buried there.) Had our efforts to preserve what we thought, with good reason, to be the final resting place of the first dancer to use pointe artistically been in vain?

I soon realized the answer was no -- even if Taglioni's real grave is well-tended, it is not well-marked, and her legacy remains neglected, so our efforts to celebrate it were not for naught. After I got over the shock, I was also relieved; we did not have so much work cut out for us after all. We no longer needed to worry about raising funds to restore what just about everyone believed to be the tomb of the pioneer of pointe. On later visiting the real grave, where Taglioni's grandson Augusto had her moved from Marseille fifty years after her death and which she shares with a few family members, we realized we still had work to do: Her name is barely legible, and there is no indication of her accomplishment. (By contrast, the nearby urn shelf of modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan sports an identifying plaque donated by the School of the Paris Opera Ballet.) She is not listed on the map of, perhaps, the most famous cemetery in the world. (Jim Morrison, Yves Montand, Camille Pissarro, Sarah Bernhardt, and Frederick Chopin are just some of the luminaries buried there. Alwin Nikolais also has a shelf in the massive columbarium, on the same floor as Duncan.) Up until recently, the stationary maps at the Montmartre Cemetery still misinformed visitors that she was there.

After Sophia Parcen -- the Paris Opera Ballet dancer who helped us organize and performed at the bicentennial tribute -- and I visited Pere Lachaise Saturday to pay our respects on the occasion of MT's 201st birthday, and on again viewing the solidity of her real grave, I again felt that sense of relief and, at the risk of sounding boastful, accomplishment. If the complete tombstone restoration we envisioned four years ago was not necessary, in fact it was the efforts of the Dance Insider community which revealed to most of the world where Taglioni was really buried, and that her grave was, after all, in pretty good shape. If we -- with your vital support and encouragement, dance insider -- hadn't launched this campaign, in other words, most dancers and dance fans would not know where she was. And even if the shoes Dance Insider readers sent from all over the world to be placed on Taglioni's grave were ultimately, it turned out, placed on her mother's grave, it doesn't alter the love -- for their pioneer and thus their art -- that dancers demonstrated by this gesture.

Sophia placed many of those shoes on the grave on the 200th anniversary of Taglioni's birth, which ceremony you can read about and see photographs of here. To read more about Taglioni and the DI's efforts over the past four years to preserve her legacy, just visit the Dance Insider search page and enter the magic word "Taglioni" in the search window.

PS: It felt a little morbid -- and perhaps ungrateful, as she did after all give birth to Marie -- to even consider moving the pointe shoes from her mother Sophia's grave to Taglioni's. However, I think it's time we start building a new pile on the real grave; as mentioned above, while in sterling shape, it still offers no indication of just who Taglioni was. There are three pairs there now -- from DI webmistress and dancer Robin Hoffman, and from Parcen -- and we'd like to add more. If you have some 'dead' pointe shoes you'd like us to place on the grave of the effective mother of pointe, please write me for details on where to send them.


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