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Spotlight Saturday: Charles Didelot

This week's Spotlight Saturday focuses on Charles Didelot.

Charles Louis Didelot was born in Stockholm to French parents on March 28, 1767. His father, also named Charles Didelot, acted as dance master to the King of Sweden. Didelot studied under his father, who also taught dance at the Swedish Opera. He made his debut at the theatre of Bollhuset in Stockholm in 1786.

He continued his studies in Paris under Jean Dauberval, where he debuted in 1790 as partner to the ballerina Madeleine Guimard, before moving to London to study under Jean-Georges Noverre. His London debut came in 1788. Some time later, Charles le Picq suggested Didelot as his successor in the capacity of chief choreographer to the Russian Imperial Ballet. Didelot had already achieved success as a choreographer, in such ballets as Le Metamorphose, Flore et Zephyre, Don Quixote, and Apollon et Daphne.

Didelot and his wife Rose in a 1796 lithograph

When he arrived in St. Petersburg in 1801, Didelot also took up the role of first dancer, but his stage career came to end in 1806 following a leg injury and the sudden death of his wife, Rose Colinette, who had been a talented ballerina. From then on, Didelot focused on teaching dance, exerting great influence over the development of ballet. He taught in Paris and London during the Napoleonic Wars before returning to St. Petersburg in 1816.

His ballet Flore et Zephyre of 1796 had been greatly celebrated; it featured dancers 'flying' on wires in order to achieve the illusion of weightlessness. Now, for the Imperial Ballet, he revived the production, which featured the first pose on pointe. Genevieve Gosselin was brought in on wires, and with this aid, posed on her toes. This is not to say that she danced on her toes - this honour still belongs to Marie Taglioni - but her pose was more of a technical trick. Alongside Gosselin as Flora danced the enigmatic Francois-Ferdinand Decombe as Zephyr, under his stage name 'Albert'.

Didelot and Mme. Theodore in Dauberval's ballet 'Amphion et Thalie'

Didelot's work greatly contributed to making the Russian ballet one of the best in the world; not for nothing is he known as 'the father of Russian ballet', as he laid the groundwork for the 'Romantic era'. Over his time with the Imperial Theatres, he produced more than 40 ballets, not counting stand-alone dances and gala performances. He is also credited with introducing the 'flesh'-coloured tights for the ballerina, who previously had worn white or solid colour stockings.

Didelot was unfortunately dismissed in 1832 after a quarrel with Prince Sergei Gagarin, the director of the Imperial Theatres. Gagarin had him arrested for causing trouble after a delay in the start of a performance, or possibly, for fighting for the rights of his dancers. He resigned soon afterwards and was succeeded by Alexis-Scipion Blache.

Didelot died on November 7, 1837 in Kiev on his way to the Crimea for a rest cure, aged 70.

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Genevieve Gosselin.

- Selene

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