Allard, Marie (1742–1802)
Allard, Marie (1742–1802)
French ballerina. Born Marie Allard in 1742; died in 1802; children: (with balletmaster Gaëtan Vestris) Marie-Jean-Augustin Vestris (b. March 27, 1760; d. 1842), a major ballet dancer known as Auguste Vestris.
It was the fashion in 18th-century France for a man of means to have a mistress or four. (The title went to Prince de Conti who, as reported by Parmenia Migel , "kept sixty recognized mistresses, without counting the 'minor,' the 'occasional,' and the 'imperceptible' ones.") Ballet mothers of the day aimed to keep their daughters from marrying young so as to profit from the attentions of these aristocrats. But a rule remained in effect until 1775, limiting the power of the mothers: once a ballerina was "on the list" of the Paris Opera, she was no longer subject to the authority of her parents, police, or husband. To obtain a young girl, rakes only had to get her signed up with the Opera, then elope. When parents complained, they were informed that the police could do nothing; their daughters belonged to the Opera.
Ten-year-old Marie Allard was caught in this system. She was born in Marseille to poor parents who offered her to the Comédie de Marseille and a certain Monsieur V who had the means to pay for her. When her mother died two years later, Marie went to the Lyon opera and was engaged among the premieres danseuses (first dancers). By 1756, at age 14, she was settled in a small apartment in Paris with a job at the Comédie-Française. Allard capitalized on the attentions of her lovers. Her first amour paid the rent, her second offered her a larger apartment, her third was a duke, her fourth was balletmaster Gaëtan Vestris with whom she had just begun to study. While with Vestris, she also enjoyed the affections of another dancer named Jean Bercher, known as Dauberval. On March 27, 1760, she gave birth to a young Vestris.
At 18, Allard made her Paris Opera debut in June 1761 in Zaïs by Cahusac and Rameau. The audience, along with a large number of young rakes—including the Duc de Mazarin and Monsieur de Bontems—fell in love with her. At one point, Mlle Allard's contract was temporarily suspended "on the ground that her deplorable habit of producing two children every eighteen months caused her to be constantly in a condition which was destructive of all stage effect."
But Allard was a serious dancer, who danced 35 roles in her first 10 years at the Opera, and was lauded for her pas de deux with Dauberval in Sylvie (1766 and 1767). Meanwhile, she helped Vestris train their son Auguste who would become the dance marvel of the age. As her son's career was on the rise, hers began to decline, chiefly because of her burgeoning weight, and the committee requested her retirement in 1781. Marie Allard died of a stroke in 1802, brought on by her excessive weight.
Migel, Parmenia. The Ballerinas: From the Court of Louis XIV to Pavlova. NY: Macmillan, 1972.