Marie Taglioni’s life touches every ballet dancer to this today. She was the first ballerina to dance on pointe. This technique was a novelty in the nineteenth century but now an essential part of ballet training. With her weightless technique and uncanny ability to balance on her toes in darned, soft-toe ballet slippers, Marie made this gravity-defying pointe work popular among ballet dancers and the audiences. However it was her talent, particularly in her signature role in La Sylphide, that inspired a devoted following and forever changed the style of ballet.
Marie was born in Stockholm on april 23, 1804 and moved with her family to Vienna at a young age. Her father Filippo was a dancer and choreographer, while her mother Anna was the daughter of a popular singer and dramatic author of the time, Christopher Karsten. Marie studied ballet in Vienna with her father, and in 1822 made her first performance at the age of 18 in one of his ballets, titled La Reception d’une Jeune Nymphe à la Cour de Terpsichore. Fanny Elssler, an Austrian ballerina born in 1810 and who would later become one of Marie Taglioni’s greatest rivals, also danced in the corps de ballet for this performance. Marie went on to dance in Munich and Stuttgart before making her debut with the Paris Opéra in 1827. She performed with the Paris Opéra for the next 10 years, with her father as her primary teacher and choreographer.
Onstage, Taglioni was known not only for her gracefullness story ballets but also for her excellent character dancing. Marie created the title role in La Sylphide in 1832, in a part choreographed specifically for her by her father. This role became her signature and where for the first time a ballerina danced on pointe. She became known as La Taglioni. A special costume created just for her for that part is now considered to be the standard romantic tutu. She wore a form-fitting bodice baring her neck and shoulders, a bell-shaped skirt in a light, white material that ended mid-calf and pink tights. The style was later reproduced in ballets such as Giselle in 1841, choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli, and Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides in1909.
Marie’s style of dance included unusual posture and port de bras, which have become an example of the Romantic ballet era. Many historians now believe that these movements and poses were originally created by her father to compensate for a deformity in her back, which could have been anything from a hunchback to a severe spinal curvature. Whatever the handicap, Taglioni became known for her very light and delicate style, with curved arms overhead, framing her face, a forward body posture with the legs in fourth position on pointe and the shoulders slightly tilted in effacé.
Marie’s personal life during her performing years was chaoic and restless. In London in 1834, she married Compte Gilbert de Voisins. Together they had a son, and separation followed a year later. Also Fanny Elssler’s arrival at the Opéra in 1834 created a rivalry for Marie’s position, and the main reason for both Marie and her father accepting contracts at the Russian Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1837. There they collaborated on a number of ballets that premiered in London at Her Majesty’s Theatre after the were performed at the Maryinsky in Russia.
Marie gave her last performance in 1848, at the age of 44, after a 26-year career. Her retirement was short-lived, however, due to mismanagement of her funds. She was forced to return to Paris in 1858, where she became Inspectrice de la Danse at the Paris Opéra in 1859, and created an examination system for the ballet school. In 1860, she choreographed Le Papillon for her protégé, Emma Livry, who died tragically when her costume caught fire after brushing against the stage gas lighting. After losing her fortune during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, Marie taught ballroom dancing in London. In 1880, she moved to Marseilles, where she lived with her son until her death on April 24,1884 at the age of 80.