Pierre Gardel: the Talleyrand of Ballet
Unlike many of his colleagues, Pierre Gardel (1758-1840) was not a flamboyant figure who continuously travelled the world of dance from Paris to Milan, Vienna, London and St Petersburg. He was the calm face and unshakeable pillar of the Paris Opera Ballet which he directed for four decades (1787-1827), guiding it through a period of considerable political upheaval. He possessed the skill to ensure the survival of an aristocratic art form cherished by Louis XIV, throughout the French Revolution, the Terreur, the First Empire and the Restoration, which was certainly linked to his rather discreet and diplomatic personality and his capacity to adapt the repertoire to the tastes of the relevant reigning class. Gardel, who was appointed a few years after Noverre’s dismissal and made his last appearance on stage alongside Marie Taglioni on the eve of the premier of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, bridged the gap between the two major events in 18th-century and early 19th-century ballet history: the birth of the ballet d’action and the bloom of the Romantic ballet.
Drawing on sources chiefly from the Paris Opera archives, I will present a brief outline of Gardel’s life and work as a dancer, director and creator of ballets, including his private, artistic and political environment. The paper will conclude with a few thoughts on Gardel’s place in the history of the Paris Opera and in the history of dance.