Montmartre Cemetery - dancers

I have not yet finished with the Montmartre Cemetery. Now, it’s time for some dancers.

Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), born at Kiev, but rather Polish, son of dancers, was a star dancer in the beginning of the 19th century. Starting his career at the famous Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre in Saint Petersburg, he’s specially linked to Sergei Diaghilev and the famous “Ballets Russes”, performing the years before and after WWI and which got their “home” in Paris after the Russian 1917 revolution. He danced with and choregraphed Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan (represented on the façade of the Théatre Champs-Elysées, the major “home” of the “Ballets Russes” performances) … Ballets like “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” (music by Debusyy) and “Sacre du Printemps” (music by Stravinski) are other references. Nijinski had mental problems as from 1920 and spent his last 30 years in an asylum in Switzerland.

There is another grave which has led to some misunderstandings. You can read: “Marie Taglioni – sa mere bien aimée” (M.T., her beloved mother). In fact, this is the tomb of Marie’s mother, Sophie Karsten, a Swedish dancer. But the star is Marie, who is buried at the Père-Lachaise Cemetery. The misunderstanding has led to the devotion and the collection of ballet or pointe shoes offered by fans. Marie (1804-84) was actually the first artist who introduced dancing « en pointe ». Johann Strauss II composed a “Maria Taglioni Polka”.

« La Goulue », Louise Weber (1866-1929) got her nickname (the glutton) from her habit of emptying the glasses of the cabaret guests. She is considered to have created the Cancan dance and her name if of course linked to Moulin Rouge (see previous posts) and Toulouse-Lautrec. The end of her career was less glorious; she sold peanuts, cigarettes and matches on the street corner, near Moulin Rouge. (The Moulin Rouge did not quite look the same when “La Goulue” starred.)

Another name and tomb is more linked to another great Paris cabaret, “Lido”: “Miss Bluebell”, Margaret Kelly-Leibovici (1910-2004). After an own dancing career, she created in 1932 the “Bluebell Girls”, which has become a concept still alive, not only in Paris. Her biography is full of good acts.

At last, for this post, let’s talk about Ludmilla Tchérina (1924-2004). She was the daughter of a Russian prince and general. In 1942, at 18, she became the youngest prima ballerina ever and danced with the Paris Opera, the Bolshoi and the Kirov Theatres. She also appeared in films with co-stars like Mel Ferrer, Michael Redgrave… She was also an author, but especially during her later years painted and sculpted. The statue we can see on her grave is a copy of “Europe à Coeur”, chosen in 1991 to symbolize the Union of Europe and placed in front of the European Parliament building.
Here is where you can find the tombs.


Catherine said...

Une fantastique thématique !

Et de petits chaussons de satin rose, comme un rêve touchant et tendre de petit rat déposé aux pieds des "pointures" de la danse classique.

Il y a de l'Art dans tes fouilles de cimetières. Tu redonnes vie aux oubliés.

Simony said...

Beautifully illustrated, Peter!
I love to hear the history of these people. You are so extra nice to provide maps, too!

Owen said...

Am vastly enjoying your series on Montmartre Cemetery ! Very informative, beautifully illustrated... this one will stand out in my memory among all the fine posts here.

Back in August I spent an afternoon in there, and haven't even begun to post photos from that day... but they will reach the surface one of these days. I love to see the way people's perspectives vary... no two people will photograph to same subject matter in the same way, this is always plenty of room for many variations on a theme.

Great work Peter !

Virginia said...

As you may or may not know, I have always had reservations for some reason, when I visit these lovely resting places in Paris. As a photographer, I find the cemeteries in Paris so very beautiful. On the other hand, I can't shake the feeling that I am an outsider and my camera an intrusion.

This trip I hope to see the pet cemetery with Owen, Mary. Would you like to join us?


Virginia said...

May I add, the satin toe shoes alongside the porcelain weath.......parfait.

Olivier said...

waouhh un superbe hommage aux danseurs, j'avoue que j'ai une préférence pour la Goulue ;)

Magda Machnicka said...

It is really touching when you think of dancers who left their shoes on the graves. It was like to leave the most intimate, the most hidden part of your hart there. Shoes are something special, and dancing shoes are much more than this, that is why, I guess, your photos gave me such a great feeling of importance.

hpy said...

Et oui, on finit toujours par mourir.


A fascinating historical and biographical review -- thank you!

caterpillar said...

Whether I get to visit Paris ever, these posts definitely make me feel like I've been on a guided tour... :)

Parisbreakfasts said...

Ha! Great minds blablabla
Dancers on the brain!!

wockley said...

what a fantastic guide! Thank you so much.

Starman said...

Leaving dancing shoes is an interesting touch. Some of them look like they've been there for some time.

Aitor Artaitz said...

Again an excellent post. Thanks

In any way, it is strange the fascination which people have on death. The idea of giving a dead person your shoes. It is impossible that this people are given something to an amount of dust and remembrances. They must be trying to express a desire, a hope, an idea of what they would like to be.

James said...

Paris has the most amazing cemeteries. Sadly I missed this one. :(

Scheherazade said...

Thank you for your post on cemeteries and dancers. Unusual and fascinating.

Olga said...

The first photo is so romantic and decadent. This kind of photo can inspire a novel or an opera. Thank you. It is very moving.

Anonymous said...

I visited last week but it was so cold and snowing that I didn't get to the graves I really wanted to see - and with no map it was difficult to find them. I did find Berlioz and the can-can lady but really wanted to visit Dalida and Michel Berger.

I often used to stay at the Ibis which overlooks the cemetary.

Oh well next time I will take your map!( as the sign says new ones available in September but doesn't specify which year!)


Rakesh Vanamali said...

Interesting! When is the book happening?

Catherine said...

fascinating post - I loved reading about all the dancers buried here - so interesting - thanks!!

claude said...

Tu es un vrai hitorien des cimetières, Peter !
Un vrai documentaliste !
J'adore les chausson roses.
Cela donne envie d'aller visiter ce cimatière. Quelles personnalités y reposent !

BLOGitse said...

I love the first shot...
I used to dance ballet, sigh.
Greetings from snowy Helsinki!

Cezar and Léia said...

Great work Peter,
Always a perfect reportage!
I'm impressed by Ludimilla's story and the copy of “Europe à Coeur”, sculpture there.
Also, I need to say the first composition is pure ART!

*** I loved the "vin chaud" that I tasted on "Marché de Noel"!Delicious!
Do you have the receipt?

Sab said...

Wow - I've just rediscovered your blog Peter and I'm overwhelmed by all the photos! You must have spent absolutely ages doing all that. I only do one or two photos at a time - that's all I can manage :-S

Mona said...

That is a fantastic post about dance! ballet is fascinating.

I understand very little about dancing, but it is something that so hypnotizing to watch!

Jilly said...

This post is just wonderful, Peter! History and beauty together, all in marvellous post and the map too. My goodness, you could make a visit to this cemetery THE reason for coming to Paris. Beautiful beautiful shots.

joanna said...


You have made all the artists,dancers, musicians, writers, come to life again, this is why I love Paris, so many of the ones you mentioned I love reading about them, writing poems about them, just wonderful,

I have been meaning to write a poem or two on the Ballet Ruses --
I have a pair of old worn pink ballet shoes, do I part with them, and leave them there when I visit?
Merci Peter you are wonderful to do this,,,
an incredible journey.