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Home > Dance History

History: The Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas

At a time when the original Ballet Russé were on troubled waters, a wealthy Chilean formed what was to become the last of the great independent ballet companies. This colorful personality, the Marquis de Cuevas, possessed a burning passion for ballet. When he married Margaret Strong, the granddaughter of the American multi-millionaire, John D. Rockefeller, he was able to set aside all financial worries and focus his attention on the art, which gave him so much pleasure.

His debut as an impresario of dance occurred in 1944, with the formation of Ballet International. Ten different choreographers produced works for the company, including specially commissioned ballets by Bronislava Nijinska, Massine, Edward Caton, Andre Eglevsky, and many other choreographers. With the Ballet Russé de Monte Carlo and American Ballet Theatre already in competition with the company in New York, the Marquis tried to be as gimmicky and outrageous as possible with his repertory; but he tried to be too ambitious and the company did not succeed.

Ballet Russé de Monte Carlo

The company lost money in all directions, although this did not worry the Marquis: what he sought was an established company. To achieve this he bought the Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo three years later, combined the repertories of the two companies and named the new venture the Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo.

For the first performance at the Vichy Opera, in July 1947, the company included such stars as Rosella Hightower, Marjorie Tallchief, George Skibine, and Andre Eglevsky. Although the company never had a permanent home, in spirit it was based in Paris. But it did achieve the stable, established character the Marquis was after, and from 1951 onwards it became known as the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas.

William Dollar and John Taras were both ballet masters of the company at one time or other, and for it they each created a number of successful ballets, including Tara’s Piege de Lumieré in 1952. A great many of the world’s finest choreographers created ballets for the company, among them Balanchine, Harald Lander, Nijinska, Lifar, Massine, Lichine, Skibine, Ana Ricarda, Vladmir Skouratov, Janine Charrat, and John Cranko.

Maria Tallchief  Balanchine Dancer
Maria Tallchief

The Marquis, as owner and artistic director, loved to do personally what many administrators preferred to entrust to others. He would often be seen backstage fixing a button onto the costume of one of his dancers or discussing a make-up problem just before the curtain went up. At the time of his death in 1961, productions, including The Sleeping Beauty, was pronounced just before he died. For a while his widow carried on the ensemble – when it became Ballet International de la Marquis de Cuevas – but finally, in June 1962, she disbanded the company.

Reference: compiled from 'Understanding Ballet' by Iann Woodward

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