Louis Alexandre Mérante was a dancer and choreographer. From 1869 he was the Premier Maître de Ballet [First Balletmaster and Chief Choreographer] at the Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique until its destruction by fire in 1873, and subsequently the first Ballet Master of the Palais Garnier. He is best remembered as the choreographer of Léo Delibes’s Sylvia, ou la nymphe de Diane (1876). With Arthur Saint-Léon and Jules Perrot, he is one of the three choreographers who defined the French ballet tradition during the Second Empire and the Third Republic.
Born in Paris on 23 July 1828, Mérante was a pupil of Lucien Petipa, with whom he figured on the six-member select jury of the first annual competition for the Corps de Ballet, held on 13 April 1860. The jury included the director of the Conservatoire de danse, as well as the former ballerina Marie Taglioni, its guiding spirit.
Following Sylvia, Mérante choreographed Le Fandango, a ballet-pantomime that premièred on 26 November 1877 and had as librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, who had recently delivered a libretto on a similarly Spanish theme for Bizet’s Carmen.
His ballet, Les Deux Pigeons, after the fable by La Fontaine, to music by André Messager has been revived with new choreography, as a showpiece for the youngest dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. But other ballets, with a mime libretto whose authors normally shared credit with Mérante, are perhaps an irretrievably lost part of ballet history: La Korrigane, ‘ballet fantastique’ by François Coppée, choreographed by Mérante; Les Jumeaux de Bergame, ‘ballet-arlequinade’ by Charles Nuitter and Mérante, to music by Th. de Lajarte, and others, were once produced season after season for the Opéra Garnier.
Edgar Degas included the figure of Mérante, in an immaculate white suit, with the traditional baton for beating time on the floorboards, in his 1872 painting Le foyer de danse à l'Opéra de la rue Le Peletier, which shows the Balletmaster rehearsing in the Foyer de la Danse of the old premises in the Théâtre de l’Académie Impériale de Musique, with its great arched mirror. The painting marked the beginning of Dégas's long infatuation with the ballet, but though he had sketched the individual dancers and the room, he was not permitted to attend a rehearsal in person.
Louis Mérante died at Courbevoie on 17 July 1887.
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