Auguste Vestris


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(orig. Marie-Jean Augustin Vestris, b Paris, 27 Mar. 1760; d Paris, 5 Dec. 1842)

French dancer and teacher. Illegitimate son of Gaetano Vestris and the dancer Marie Allard. He studied with his father and made his debut in the divertissement La Cinquantaine in 1772, at the age of 12. His first major success was dancing Amor in his father's ballet Endymion the following year. In 1776 he was appointed a soloist at the Paris Opera; in 1778 he became premier danseur and in 1780 premier sujet de la danse. He danced in the first production of Noverre's Les Petits Riens (1778) and in Gluck's Alceste (1778). During the 1780s he and his father made frequent appearances at the King's Theatre, London, where their popularity was such that Parliament stopped sitting in order to see them dance. In London and Paris, he created many roles in ballets by his father, as well as by Dauberval, Gardel, and Noverre. A short dancer, he possessed an extraordinary elevation and technical virtuosity that made him the most famous dancer in Europe. His rapid beats and multiple pirouettes were considered superhuman and they inspired improvements in technique throughout the dance world. In 1807, it is said, Napoleon refused to allow the dancer to leave Paris, saying: ‘Foreigners must come to Paris to see Vestris dance.’ By 1803, however, he had to contend with a rival: Louis-Antoine Duport, a 22-year-old whose challenge to the older Vestris was the subject of much gossip. Vestris retired from the Paris Opera in 1816. In 1819 he was imprisoned for debt, although his financial situation subsequently improved. He was also one of the leading teachers of the day, counting among his pupils Didelot, Perrot, Elssler, Bournonville, and Marie Taglioni, with whom he performed a minuet at the Paris Opera in 1835, when he was 75. He choreographed several unremarkable ballets, all for the King's Theatre in London: The Nymphs of Diana (1781), Le Premier Navigateur (1786), dances in Grétry's opera L'Épreuve villageoise (1786), and Les Folies d'Espagne (1791).

Subjects: Dance.

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