The Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas
BALLET: Paris had been trying earnestly to regain its lost
glory after being the cradle of the Diaghilev Ballet for a long time. It
was dominating the Paris Opera that was lacking its own identity until a
Frenchman, Rene Blum and a Russian, Col. W de Basil came to its rescue.
PERFECTION: Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in Giselle.
They were the most unlikely partners with the Frenchman being polite,
cultured, gentle and courteous while the Russian who was a Colonel of
the Cossacks, was gruff, unpredictable and difficult to work with.
So how did they survive?. Simply because Blum had a profound taste
for the arts and the ability to revolutionise the importance of ballet
while De Basil was a hard-fisted administrator ruthless on business
After Diaghilev’s death, Blum became the director of the Ballets de
1’Opera-de Monte Carlo. The pair worked tirelessly with several ballets
that flopped at the beginning especially the ones mounted in Paris and
London. When Serge Grigoriev joined, things changed.
He was followed by Balanchine who ended his stint in 1932 to start
his own company. Blum too left the Ballets de Monte Carlo and the
company changed its name to Col. W Basil’s Ballet. Following these
changes, Blum took charge of his own small company which was still very
powerful. He toured the United States.
Tragedy struck the innocent Blum in 1941. While living in a flat in
paris, Blum was arrested by the Germans because of his Jewish faith and
deported to the concentration camp at the notorious Auchwitz where he
These incidents were the advent to the coming of The Grand Ballet du
Marquis de Cuevas.
In the 1930s, Ballets Russes was inaugurated by Col. de Basil and the
late Blum and they did much to revitalise Western Ballet at a time when
it would have fallen apart. This resulted in various companies bridging
the gap between the great Diaghilevera and the proliferation of ballet
as seen today. They provided the dancers for ballet which otherwise may
have ceased to exist. They were the life savers of Western ballet.
And as these spectacular events were taking place, its creator Blum
was languishing in a dark concentration camp unaware that his efforts
were skyrocketing with great results. It was later reported, when Blum
was found dead, the same night, Balanchine was mounting his Raymonda
which may have been a silent tribute to him.
A wealthy Chilean who had passion for ballet formed a ballet that was
later to become great independent ballet companies. This was at a time
the Original Ballet Russe was in turmoil. The Chilean happened to be the
Marquis de Cuevas whose colourful personality matched his burning desire
for classical ballet.
He was able to set aside a great deal of money that was at his
disposal when he married the grand-daughter of the billionaire-American
John D. Rockerfeller. His wife who had done a spell in ballet was more
than pleased when the Marquis told his desire to promote this wonderful
In 1944 he debuted an impressario with the formation of the Ballet
International. He was able to commission ten top most choreographers to
produce and mount ballets for the company. Among many were Bronsilav,
Nijanska, Massine, Edward Caton as well as Andre Eglevsky.
He was determined to outshine the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the
American Ballet Theatre who were already in competition in New York.
However, the Marquis whose gimmicks were outrageous in his repertoire,
failed because of his over ambition.
The Marquis was not worried when the company suffered heavy losses
because what he sought was to establish his company. With this in mind,
he engaged the Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo three years later. This
resulted in combined repertoires of the two companies debuting under a
new name of Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo.
In July 1947, the company mounted its first ballet with such
established dancers like Rosella Hightower, Marjorie Tallchief, George
Skibine and Andre Eglevsky. Spiritually the company was based in Paris
though it did not have a permanent home. But it made the Marquis very
happy because the company achieved the established character he was
after. Finally it became known as the Grand ballet du Marquis de Cuevas.
He was on the road of success when choreographers such as Willima
Dollar and John Taras time apart created great ballets for the company.
Among them was Tara’s spectacular version of Piege de Lumiere in 1952.
This was followed by many of the world’s best choreographers joining the
They were Balanchine, Harald Lander, Nijinska, (Nijinsky’s sister)
Lifar, Massine, Lichine, Skibine, Ana Ricarda, Vladimir Skouratov,
Janina Charrat and John Cranko. The irony was that all these ‘greats’
were leaving their companies to join the Marquis.
Being a down-to-earth man where his passion was concerned, the
Marquis as the owner and artistic director of the company did things
personally what administrators would have assigned to others. He was
seen backstage fixing a button onto a costume of one of the dancers,
discussing make-up problems and hair styling before the curtains went
When death came to him in 1961, he had mounted well over 60 ballets
and they were all successful. Most of his productions were full length
ballets including The Sleeping Beauty which was mounted just before he
It was during this time that a sensational drama took place at the Le
Bourget airport in Paris when the defecting Rudolf Nureyev made a
spectacular leap into the arms of Paris Police and was granted political
asylum in France.
After hitting the international tabloids, Nupeyev straight away
headed to The Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cueves to launch his brilliant
career that made him the dancer of the last century, thanks to the
After his death, his widow Margaret carried on the ensemble but when
it became Ballet International de la Marquse de Cuvas, she disbanded it
finally in June 1962. Nureyev had left for London by now and joined the
Royal Ballet with partnership of Margot Fonteyn.
No male dancer had generated such public interest because of his
personality and technique.