Auguste Vestris


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Hugues Gall, action is in order !
31 January 2003

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Paris, January 31st 2003

The note found below, has been the subject of discussion on the site, at

[Let me say at the outset, that I know, on a personal basis, none of the cast of characters of whom it shall be question here]

As the current run of “Paquita” draws to a close, may I take the liberty, M. Gall, of addressing you a sort of open letter, whereby I may perhaps be speaking for several thousand members of the public, as well as many in the trade.

Thirty-five years ago, when I read law at University, I was attracted to the criminal law, because I never did much like injustice. In the intervening decades, close acquaintance with injustice in many areas of politics and art, has not really persuaded me otherwise.

M. Gall, we have an injustice here. You would seem to be the sole person who can act, and a number of us would therefore like you to put it right, before you retire from the Theatre which you now lead.

We have, in the French National Theatre today, an individual in the ballet, who, give or take a few minor snags and hitches, has become (with the help, let it be said, of some extraordinary teachers), the very pattern and epitome of the Old French school, and who is accorded, night after night, what amounts to a standing ovation. His own colleagues – those who are not blinded for jealousy – consider him to be inspirational leadership. Witness the delighted rustle of anticipation amongst the corps de ballet as he steps out, night after night.

Twelve or thirteen years ago, when this individual joined the corps de ballet, at, we are told, the age of fifteen or so, one expected the usual “whiz kid” flash-in-the-pan, bored and burnt out by twenty-three. To the contrary. The man is never bored, and never boring. Relentlessly, night after night, whether in the eleventh row of the corps de ballet, or dancing a few seconds’ variation, this individual has taken tawdry bits of choreography, and turned them into pearls of beauty.

One wonders also, whether the Theatre’s authorities have properly measured the impact on the men and women in the corps de ballet, of the strange goings-on at the Concours, where this individual has been Non-Promoted for X number of years now. The message that sends out to Miss Bloggs or Mr. Fotherington back there in row seventeen, is: “high-level, exquisite tedium will be encouraged. BUT, if you toy with breaking the rules like this notorious trouble-maker, Well, put this in your pipe and smoke it: Jules Perrot we exiled to Siberia, or was it Russia ? We shall come down upon you like a ton of bricks, and you’ll be trampling the boards back there till they haul you off with a hook at forty.”

The individual in question is now a mature artist, and, rather than retaliate viciously against the sort of things we have seen year after year at the Concours, rather than sell out at five times the wage, to some US troupe headhunting jumpers and turners, he has responded with love - for the work, for music, for his company, and for art. That is the mark of a brave man.

It is something most singular, most unexpected, and one would have to be a block of stone, not to be moved by it.

The matter has been raised in the newspapers, and also, by professionals abroad. Over the few weeks since the December 2002 Concours, the mood amongst the public has swelled to a slight undertone of Riot. Look out ! Just as the classical theatre is no place for tomfoolery such as the recent “l’Appartement” and “Casanova”, neither is it a football stadium. One would not like this to blow up into a Nureyev-sort of hero worship. Nor need one tell a man of your broad experience, M. Gall, that hero worship corrupts the public, and, at the end of the day, it also destroys the artist who becomes the object of unbridled, and puerile, admiration.

Let us restore a tone of normality to the proceedings. Normality, in a great cultural centre like the Paris Opera, is greatness. You have taken other, controversial decisions before, and you have stuck by them. May we now ask you to shew the sort of grit shewn for many a year now by this fellow - whose name, by the bye, is Emmanuel Thibault - and to boldly step out upon the stage, perhaps even this evening, to right this wrong.

Failing which, well, it has kindly been drawn to our attention that Russian astronomers, in 1989, have named celestial object 8470 after the lately-deceased ballerina Natalia Dudinskaya. If, in future years, the man turns out to be as dedicated a professor as he is now a dancer, perhaps French astronomers would care to put their heads together, and single out a suitable celestial object to which they will give that name.

Beats being a mere étoile, don’t it ?