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Jean Babilée

(b. 1923)


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(orig. J. Gutmann; b Paris, 2 Feb. 1923)

French dancer, choreographer, and actor. After studying at the Paris Opera Ballet School from 1936 (with Volinine and Gsovsky), he made his debut as a dancer in Cannes in 1940 with Marika Besobrasova's troupe. He joined the Paris Opera Ballet corps in 1943, although left shortly afterwards to join the French Resistance. After the war he became principal dancer of Roland Petit's Ballets des Champs-Elysées (1945–50) and when that company closed guested in Europe and America. He returned briefly to the Paris Opera in 1953, and to Petit's Ballets de Paris in 1954 before starting his own short-lived company, Les Ballets Jean Babilée (1955–9). A virtuoso dancer, possessed of exceptional elevation, he was celebrated for his Blue Bird and Spectre de la rose, although most closely identified with the lead role in Le Jeune Homme et la mort, which Petit choreographed for him in 1946. Other created roles included Charrat's Jeu de cartes (1945), Lichine's Oedipe et le Sphinx (1948), Massine's Mario e il mago (1956), and Lazzini's Prodigal Son (1967). He choreographed his first ballet in 1944, Sérénité (to Beethoven), for the Paris Soirées de la Danse and a list of his subsequent works includes L'Amour et son amour (mus. Franck, Ballets des Champs-Elysées, 1948), Till Eulenspiegel (Strauss, Ballets des Champs-Elysées, 1949), Balance à trois (mus. Damase, Monte Carlo Opera, 1955), and Le Caméléopard (mus. Sauguet, Les Ballets Jean Babilée, 1956). His stage career continued into middle age. Dancing the title role in Joseph Lazzini's The Prodigal Son, he was awarded the Gold Star for best dancer at the International Festival of Dance in Paris in 1967, Béjart created Life for him in New York in 1979, and in Paris in 1984, at the age of 61, he returned to his created role in Petit's Le Jeune Homme et la mort with the National Ballet of Marseilles. He briefly directed the Ballet du Rhin in Strasbourg (1972–3). Babilée also had a career in film, appearing in La Ligne d'ombre (1971) and Duelle (1975) and acted in stage productions of Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending and Jean Genet's The Balcony, as well as taking the lead in the dance drama The Green Queen, mounted by Béjart in 1963.

Subjects: Dance.


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