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Repertory Archive

Arthur Saint-Leon



(Charles Victor) Arthur Michel Saint-Léon was born September 17, 1815, though the exact date of his birth has never been definitely established; some sources give 1821. He was the son of the ballet master of the Wuertemberg Ducal Theatre, Stuttgart and made his debut as a violinist in Stuttgart in 1834, and began his dance career in 1835 in Munich. He also studied with Albert.

In 1833, he began a series of European appearances which lasted until 1859. In Milan he met the celebrated ballerina Fanny Cerito, whom he later married, and for whom he choreographed what was probably his first ballet, La Vivandiere ed il Postiglione, which he produced in London for her. He created the role of Matteo to Cerito’s Ondine in Jules Perrot’s ballet Ondine, and Phoebus in Perrot’s La Esmeralda. For Cerito’s Paris debut, Saint-Leon choreographed La Fille de Marbre. This ballet was a huge success and led to the production of some sixteen of his ballets and divertissements for the Paris Opera, among them Le Violon du Diable, in which Saint-Leon played a violin solo, and Stella, ou Les Contrebandiers.

Saint-Léon and Cerito separated in 1850 and Saint-Leon made his debut as a ballet master of the Imperial Theatre in 1859. It is interesting that Saint-Léon, a Frenchman, was the first to produce a ballet on a Russian theme, The Humpbacked Horse.
Saint-Léon was in great demand, both as dancer and choreographer, and received invitations to visit Lisbon, Bordeaux, Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, Florence, Turin, Brussels, Venice, Pest, and other important cities, where he revived many of his ballets. Saint-Léon staged ballets in all the major European cities except Milan. He always wanted to be, but never was engaged by La Scala, Milan. Traveling as a guest choreographer from city to city, Saint-Leon generally staged the same ballets under different titles; thus Nemea in Paris became Fiammetta in St. Petersburg and Salamander in Moscow. Saint-Leon left St. Petersburg in 1867 and became ballet master of the Paris Opera, a post he held until his death on September 2, 1870.

Saint-Léon was one of the best dancers of his time, famous for his remarkable ballon and elevation. He sometimes composed the music to his ballets, and was much admired as a choreographer for his skillful ballet adaptations of national dance. In addition to his ballets, Saint-Leon left a treatise on a new method of dance notation which he had devised Le Stenochoregraphie, ou l’Art d’Ecrire Promptement la Danse, which he used to record his ballets. He also composed some forty pieces for the violin.

The Dance Encyclopedia Revised and Enlarged Edition, Compiled and Edited by Anatole Chujoy and P. W. Manchester; Simon and Shuster, New York, 1967
The Complete Book of Ballets, A Guide to the Principal Ballets of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by Cyril W. Beaumont; Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., Garden City, N. Y., 1941
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet Second Edition by Horst Koegler; Oxford University Press, London, New York, Melbourne, 1982