(orig. Nelly Guillerm; b Pont-l'Abbé, 1 Dec. 1933)
French dancer and ballet director. She studied with Rousanne Sarkissian and Victor Gsovsky in Paris and made her debut in 1945 with the Ballets des Champs-Elysées, with whom she danced for several years, graduating from children's roles into soloist's roles. Her early career was marked by a restless energy. In 1950 she joined Petit's Ballets de Paris (and rejoined 1953–4); after which she danced with the company of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (later MaggioDanza) in 1951, Chauviré's Ballet de Marigny (1952), London Festival Ballet (1954), La Scala, Milan (1955), Ballet Rambert (1957, where she danced her first Giselle), and American Ballet Theatre (1957–8), for whom she created the title role in ABT's production of Cullberg's Miss Julie. In 1958, with the temporary closure of ABT, she moved to New York City Ballet, the company which was to be her home until she retired from the stage in 1976. A sparkling, vivacious ballerina, she inspired Balanchine to create many roles for her, most notably in Tchaikovsky Pas de deux and the ‘Emeralds’ section of Jewels. Her partnership with Edward Villella in the Balanchine repertoire was widely acclaimed. She also appeared as a guest artist with other companies, performing the 19th-century repertoire; she danced her first Aurora in 1964 with the Royal Ballet. In 1976, three years after her third foot operation, she retired from New York City Ballet to become the first woman to direct the Paris Opera Ballet (1977–80). After leaving Paris, she became associate director of the Boston Ballet (1980–4). From 1984 she worked as a teaching associate with New York City Ballet and in 1996 was appointed professor of dance at Indiana University. She also worked as a guest teacher, coaching her former repertory.
A list of her created roles includes Petit's Le Loup (1953), Rodrigues's Romeo and Juliet (Verona, 1955) and Cinderella (Milan, 1955), Howard's Conte fantastique (London, 1957), Balanchine's Episodes (1959), Tchaikovsky Pas de deux (1960), Figure in the Carpet (1960), Liebeslieder Walzer (1960), Electronics (1961), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1962), Jewels (1967), La Source (1968), and Sonatine (1975), Robbins's Dances at a Gathering (1969), In the Night (1970), and A Beethoven Pas de deux (1973), and Balanchine and Robbins's Pulcinella (1972). She also worked as an actress, appearing with Madeleine Renaud and Jean-Louis Barrault's company; and in films, including Ballerina (in America, Dream Ballerina, 1950, directed by Berger) and The Glass Slipper (directed by Walters, with choreography by Petit, 1954). Author of Giselle (New York, 1970) and Giselle: A Role for a Lifetime (New York, 1977).