Pierre Beauchamps

(b. 1631)

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(b Paris, 1631 (baptized 30 Oct.); d Paris, 1705)

French dancer, choreographer, ballet master, and composer, who is credited with inventing the five classic positions of classical ballet. He trained as a violinist and dancer, making his debut as the latter in 1648, in the court ballet Le Dérèglement des passions. He subsequently appeared in many ballets de cour with Louis XIV, whom he taught. In 1661 he was appointed the first Intendant des Ballets du Roi, thus making him responsible for the staging of all ballets at court. As a choreographer he collaborated frequently with the composer Lully, the two of them sometimes contributing both music and steps to the same production (Lully had himself started his career as a dancer). Together they radically shaped the evolution of ballet, both at court and at the newly founded Paris Opera. As a composer Beauchamps also worked with Molière (who was in fact a relative) and contributed the score and choreography for the latter's 1661 comedy-ballet, Les Fâcheux (as well as conducting the orchestra). This was the first of many collaborations with Molière; later productions included Le Mariage forcé (1664) and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670), both of which had music by Lully. On 19 Mar. 1671 Beauchamps choreographed Pomone, the first opera produced at the Paris Opera. In 1672 he joined the Paris Opera as ballet master, working in partnership with Lully until 1687, when Lully died and Beauchamps retired. In 1680 he was appointed chancellor of the Académie Royale de Danse. His most famous production was Le Triomphe de l'amour (1681), which was notable for featuring the first public appearance of professional female dancers. Following his retirement from the Paris Opera, he continued to work as court choreographer. As a dancer he was noted for his brilliant technique, and is said to have been one of the first to execute tours en l'air. He also designed his own system of notation, and in 1704 sued his rival notator Raoul-Auger Feuillet for plagiarism. Beauchamps lost. Rather than inventing the five classic ballet positions of arms and feet, he was probably the first to codify them. He is sometimes described as ‘the father of all ballet masters’. He was also a noted art collector.

Subjects: Dance.

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