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Spotlight: Yvette Chauvire

Okay, so... technically this is more like Spotlight Sunday (oops), but here's this week's Spotlight article, on a French ballerina who passed away last month: Yvette Chauvire.

She was born Yvonne Chauvire in Paris on 22 April 1917. In 1927, at the age of 10, she was accepted into the Paris Opera Ballet School. After only two years tuition, she made her debut in the ballet L'Eventail de Jeanne, or Jeanne's Fan. By the time she was 13, she had been invited to join the Paris Opera Ballet itself.

In rehearsal

She was made a principal dancer in 1937, and etoile, the highest rank, in 1941. She was the star of a number of experimental works by the company's director, Serge Lifar. These included Alexandre le Grand, Istar, Suite en Blanc, and Les Mirages, all of which relied heavily on contemporary style. Lifar encouraged Chauvire to study with Russian choreographers Boris Kniaseff and Victor Gsovsky, in order to introduce her to lyricism. Despite never formally studying under her, Chauvire also learnt much from teacher Carlotta Zambelli.

As Juliet in Tatiana Gsovski's 'Romeo and Juliet'

When Lifar left the company in 1945 after being accused of supporting the German invasion of France during World War II, he founded a new company called the Nouveau Ballet de Monte-Carlo, which Chauvire joined in 1946. The following year both returned to the Paris Opera, but Chauvire left again in 1949 after contract disputes. She wanted freedom to guest perform with other companies, which was initially denied. During this time, she performed around Europe, including in productions of Grand pas classique for the Ballets des Champs-Elysées, and in La Dame aux camelias for the Berlin Ballet.

As the title role in the ballet 'Sylvia'

She returned to the Paris Opera in 1953 under a more flexible contract. She continued to guest star with other companies, often performing with Rudolf Nureyev, who described her as a 'legend'. Around this time she also expanded her repertoire, performing classical ballets such as Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. She considered Giselle her signature role.

As the title role in 'Giselle'

Officially, Chauvire retired from the Paris Opera Ballet in 1956, but continued to perform guest roles with the company until 1972. She was co-director of the Paris Opera Ballet School from 1963-1968. Among her pupils were the now-famous Sylvie Guillem and Marie-Claude Pietragalla. In 1970, she became the Director of International Dance Academy in Paris.

With Rudolf Nureyev in 'Les Sylphides'

In 1937, Chauvire appeared in a film by Jean Benoit-Levy, entitled La Mort du Cygne, or The Death of the Swan. Following a young girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina, the film received the Grand Prix du Film Francais at the 1937 Paris Exhibition, and was released in the United States the following year. Chauvire became a star in America, appearing on the cover of Life magazine in 1938.

As the Dying Swan in Life magazine, 1938

Chauvire was married to Russian artists Constantin Nepo, who died in 1976. She received the legion d'honneur in 1964, and in 1988 was upgraded to a Commandeur, for her services to the arts. She is considered France's greatest ballerina. She died in Paris on 19 October 2016, aged 99.

Here she is performing the Dying Swan solo:

And here she is in Giselle, first with Rudolf Nureyev and then with Cyril Atanassoff:

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Martha Graham.

- Selene

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