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Flash Flashback, 4-23: Grave Matters

By The Dance Insider
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

(Marie -- or Maria -- Taglioni, the first to use pointe artistically, was born 205 years ago today. This piece was first posted October 6, 2004. At last view, neither the City of Paris nor the Paris Opera Ballet to which she gave so much had taken care of having Taglioni's name removed from the map at the Montmartre Cemetery, where she is not buried, and added to the map at Pere Lachaise, where she is interred. -- PB-I)

PARIS -- Officials at the Montmartre Cemetery this morning agreed to take Marie (also known as Maria) Taglioni's name off cemetery maps after an Italian Institute-Dance Insider conference revealed Taglioni is not buried in the cemetery tomb which bears her name, but in the Pere Lachaise cemetery under the name of the ex-husband she divorced after he turned her away from their home because she wouldn't stop dancing.

The startling turn of events began Thursday, shortly after the opening of the bicentennial homage to and conference on Taglioni in the ballroom of the Institute's Hotel Gallifet, where Napoleon first encountered his nemesis Madame de Staehl. But that drama was nothing compared to what happened when Dance Insider publisher Paul Ben-Itzak began speaking about the Montmartre grave. As Ben-Itzak recalled first seeing Taglioni's name on the cemetery map when he visited the cemetery to view Nijinsky's grave in July 2001, DI webmistress and art director Robin Hoffman projected images of the Montmartre grave, which bears a cracked placard with the words "Marie Taglioni" and "a sa mere bien-aimee," or "to his/her beloved mother." (Click here to see images of the grave.)

Seated in the first row of the audience was conference participant Pierre Lacotte, whose 1971 reconstruction of Filippo Taglioni's "La Sylphide" is considered the authoritative version.

"I'm sorry but I must interrupt," said Lacotte, who is working on a biography of the Taglionis. "It's not her grave." As a collective gasp rippled through the spectators, Lacotte went on to explain that Taglioni's mother, Sophia Taglioni, is buried in the Montmartre tomb; the placard was put there by Taglioni as a tribute. Since the Dance Insider learned of the existence of the Montmartre grave, readers from all over the world have sent their pointe shoes to be placed on the grave, which has become a shrine to Taglioni's memory.

This morning, at the behest of the Dance Insider, officials in the preservation department of the Montmartre Cemetery searched their records and confirmed that in fact, Taglioni's mother, and not Taglioni, is buried in the tomb that bears her name. Asked why maps posted at the entrance to the cemetery and closer to the grave continue to indicate that the ballerina occupies the grave -- a more recent, printed map does not -- they explained that it would be too expensive to replace the maps. However, after speaking with the DI, they agreed to essentially white-out Taglioni's name from the maps.

When the Dance Insider arrived there this morning, the records of the Montmartre Cemetery had no information on the whereabouts of Marie Taglioni's remains. In fact, officials showed the Dance Insider a 1990 letter from the municipality of Marseille, where Taglioni was buried in 1884, enquiring as to her whereabouts.

At Thursday's conference, Lacotte reported that Taglioni was buried in Pere Lachaise -- final resting place of Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, and Jim Morrison, among others -- under the name of her ex-husband, Gilbert des Voisins. But a visit to that cemetery yesterday yielded the name of only one dancer on the cemetery's map of famous occupants -- Isadora Duncan. (Alwin Nikolais is also buried there, his ashes resting not far from Duncan's, but is not on the map.)

Upon learning of Lacotte's claim this morning from the Dance Insider, the Montmartre officials called the Pere Lachaise preservation office, and confirmed that in fact Taglioni was moved there from Marseille on January 12, 1931 -- nearly 50 years after her death in Marseille. But, whereas she is not buried in the Montmartre grave which bears her name, her name on the grave in which she is buried -- in fact the family tomb of des Voisins -- is barely legible and there is no indication of who she was in her own right.

If it is shocking to learn that Taglioni is not in the grave that bears her name and where dancers have long paid tribute to her, it's equally shocking to learn that she is buried with the estranged husband who would have separated her from the thing she loved, her identity on her final resting place subsumed to his.

Writing in the Evening Mirror on November 2, 1844, Edgar Allen Poe gave this account of the pair's divorce proceedings, according to the reputable E.A. Poe Society of Baltimore, which in turn sources T. O. Mabbott of the University of Iowa.:

".... the original Goddess of the Dance comes to us, leaving behind a repudiated husband. The following account of her application for a divorce, is from the Gazette des Tribunaux:

"'TAGLIONI'S APPLICATION FOR A DIVORCE. -- Marie Taglioni, the celebrated danseuse, on Wednesday appeared before the Civil Tribunal of the Seine to apply for a divorce (separation de corps) from her husband, M. le Compte Gilbert des Voisins....

"'Taglioni was represented by M. Dupin, who was about to state the lady's griefs upon which the application was founded, when he was immediately stopped by the President, who confined him to reading the following formal statement:

"That in 1834 Madame Marie Taglioni married the Count Gilbert des Voisins; that at that period she was attached to the Royal Academy of Music; that subsequent to their union M. Gilbert des Voisins expressed his desire that his wife should discontinue the theatrical career in which she had already obtained so brilliant a success; that on her part Marie Taglioni, induced by the love of her profession, and asserting her right to do so, persisted in a resolution to continue therein; that from this determination resulted much domestic discord, in consequence of which she accepted several advantageous offers of engagements, some of which were abroad; that on her return to France she had hoped to find M. des Voisins more disposed to conform to her wishes, but that so far from that being the case he actually shut the door against her; that in this conduct M. des Voisins had offered her a gratuitous injury and insult, which would render it impossible that they could ever live together again as man and wife; and that she therefore prayed the tribunal to ordain that she should be separated in person and effects from her said husband, and that she should not be molested or annoyed by him."

"'M. Mason, who, on the other side, represented the Count, read a statement to the following effect:

"That Madame Marie Taglioni, in breach of the obligation which she took on her marriage to give up her profession, has entered into several new engagements, both in France and abroad; that during nearly ten years she has lived away from her husband; that under these circumstances, the refusal of M. le Comte Gilbert des Voisins to receive Madame Marie Taglioni cannot be considered as an injury of a nature sufficiently grave to justify a divorce; and that he therefore prayed the tribunal to refuse the application of Madame Taglioni on the ground of insufficient reasons."

"'The case having been considered by the tribunal --

"'The President pronounced a judgment in favor of the divorce prayed for, on the grounds of the refusal of the Count to admit Madame to the domicile conjugal.'"

Following the recent developments, the DI's Ben-Itzak issued this statement:

"This news only alters our mission to preserve and restore the memory of Marie Taglioni. The bottom line is that Taglioni deserves a grave which recognizes her for who she was, and dancers deserve to know where they can go to pay tribute to her. This apparently is not currently the case. Marie Taglioni made sure to take care of her mother's memory, and now we need to do the same for dance's beloved mother."

The Dance Insider's efforts to remember Marie Taglioni have been supported by, among others, Australian Ballet, Bloch, Body Wrappers, Evelyn Cisneros, Edward Ellison, Esse Aficionado, Eileen Darby, Maina Gielgud, Martha Graham Dance Company, Paolo Grossi, Ivor Guest, Christine Jowers, Katharine Kanter, Luc, Timothy Heathcote, Stephan Laurent, David McAllister, Sophie Maopoil, Francis Mason, Martha Mountain, Dennis Mullen, Madeleine Nichols, Jerome Robbins Dance Division/New York Public Library, Anna Arias Rubio, Cynthia Quinn, Quinn Pendleton, Santa Clara Ballet, St. Petersburg Ballet Art,Tobi Tobias, Dick Turner, Lucy Venable, and Ed Winer. To find out how you can get involved, e-mail paul@danceinsider.com.

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