Marie Sallé (1709?-1756): a biography for the 21st century

Marie Sallé is a major figure who has not received a published biography for over a century. Emile Dacier’s documentary biography of 1909 offers a useful chronological introduction, especially to the Paris years and sources. While the reader derives a clear enough sense of the “curve” of Sallé’s life, Dacier generally avoids offering us an interpretation of her artistic contributions, and was also unaware of her first London seasons. Stanley Vince’s determined research in the 1960s produced a lively and sensitive documentary account that is enlivened by his appreciation of the various theatrical milieu in which Sallé worked; he also discovered her first (?) two public seasons at London’s Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields Theatre. While Vince published two articles on Sallé, he was unable to find a publisher who thought a virgin dancer famed for her “austere sagacity” would appeal to a 1970s reading public and so his book remains in manuscript, with three copies only in circulation. Scholarly interest in Sallé has never entirely faded and it would seem the time is ripe for a new biography. Modern scholars have discovered a later London season (Charlton and Hibberd), a new date of birth (Rubellin), a previously-unknown letter by Sallé (Gibson, interpreted by McCleave) and a certain number of students (McCleave).  Yet various daunting gaps remain: we know next to nothing of her first seven years of life, and our appreciation of the years between or after fixed contracts (at the Paris Opéra; in London with John Rich) remain sketchy at best.  While applied research may narrow or remove some of these lacunae, would a new documentary biography necessarily serve a 21st-century readership? Does such an approach actually serve a subject for whom we have only two surviving letters, no kind of diary or memoir, and about whose work no programmes or notated choreographies exist? The advantages of applying some “imaginative empathy” to a biography of this dancer will be explored in this paper, as will the dangers or limitations of such an approach

Sarah McCleave
Symposium Title: 
Living, dancing, travelling, dying... 2013
Author affiliation: 
Queen’s University Belfast