Marie-Madeleine Guimard


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(baptized Paris, 27 Dec. 1743; d Paris, 4 May 1816)

French dancer. A celebrated ballerina with the Paris Opera whose notorious love life ensured her celebrity off stage as well as on. She began her stage career at the age of 10 when she danced in the corps de ballet of the Comédie-Française, making her official debut in 1756 (or 1758). In 1762 she moved to the Paris Opera where in 1766 she was promoted to première danseuse de demi-caractère. One of her earliest roles was as Terpsichore in Les Fêtes grècques et romaines, and throughout her career she was often associated with the muse of dance (an image committed to canvas by Fragonard in a painting the ballerina hung in her Paris villa). During her 27 years with the Paris Opera she appeared in more than 100 ballets by Laval, Noverre, and Maximilien and Pierre Gardel, and in operas by Mozart, Rameau, and Gluck. She often danced for the court at Versailles and Fontainebleau. She was considered a great dramatic artist and was admired for her terre-à-terre dancing. Ironically she was famous for portraying naïvety and innocence on stage, qualities far removed from her real-life personality. Behind the scenes, she agitated for parity with the male stars of the Paris Opera and for a say in how the company was managed. She also enjoyed a love life to rival that of any courtesan, counting bishops and princes among her lovers. In 1772 she built a new home in Paris where she staged pornographic ballets and plays in her own private theatre. In 1789 she followed Noverre to London and appeared at the King's Theatre and at Covent Garden, finding another adoring public among the British. Later in 1789 she married the dancer and poet Jean-Étienne Despréaux and retired from public life.

Subjects: Dance.

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