NOVERRE, Jean-Georges (1727-1810)

Jean-Georges NOVERRE (1727–1810) was born in Paris; he died in St Germain-en- Laye.He was a dancer, ballet-master and dance theorist and is regarded as the creator of modern ballet. Famous in his time throughout Europe, he is to this day one of the greatest figures in the world of ballet. The day of his birth, 29 April, has become International Dance Day. Noverre made his début at Fontainebleau before the court of Louis XV in 1742, and was immediately noticed. Prince Heinrichof Prussia invited him to Berlin. On his return to Paris he joined the ballet company of the Opéra-Comique and there choreographed his first most notable ballets; he also developed the art of pantomime in contact with the actors-singers of that institution. When the Opéra-Comique was closed in 1748 Noverre went first to Strasbourg, then to Lyon, where he remained until 1752. He then spent two years in London before returning to the Opéra-Comique in 1754, where he had his first great success with the ballet Les Fêtes chinoises. Back in Lyon (1758-1760) he produced several ballets and published his famous Lettres sur la danse et les ballets, which were to run to several editions. In 1760 he moved to the Württemberg court in Stuttgart, where he spent seven years. After that he went to Vienna, where Maria Antonia, Archduchess of Austria (later Queen Marie-Antoinette), made him her protégé and appointed him ballet-master of the court. He composed many ballets there, some of them in close collaboration with Gluck. In 1775 Queen Marie-Antoinette summoned him to Paris, where she had him appointed maître des ballets at the Académie royale de musique, which caused him some difficulties with the principal male dancers of the time, Vestris and Gardel. After a second stay in London (1785-1793) Noverre retired to St Germain-en-Laye (1795), where he died in 1810, while working on the publication of a Dictionnaire de la danse. Noverre was a friend of Voltaire, Frederick II, Mozart, with whom he worked on Les Petits Riens in Paris in 1778, and David Garrick, who called him ‘the Shakespeare of dance’. His most famous ballets are La Toilette de Vénus, La Mort d'Ajax, Le Jugement de Pâris, Jason et Médée, Les Horaces and Les Petits Riens. With Cahuzac, he was the great theorist of the renewal of French ballet in the second half of the eighteenth century, and may even be regarded as the creator of the Romantic ballet.

[Benoît Dratwicki]