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Le Mystère Babilée

The film begins with rare images, shot just before the Premiere of a piece that would become a major work of 20th century repertoire, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. Roland Petit’s ballet based on the libretto by Jean Cocteau revealed an astonishing 23 year-old interpreter: Jean Babilée. Thus the legend of this extraordinary dancer was born. Patrick Bensard dedicates a detailed portrait to him, including many interviews and archive documents. 

 “He’s a cat, he has the charm, suppleness and independence of felines”, Yvette Chauviré, one of the many personalities interviewed, said of him. A diptych, Le Mystère Babilée first focuses on the creation of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. The archive documents and the comments by Jean Cocteau and Leslie Caron contribute to the reconstruction of this immediate post-war period and testify to the innovations of the work and to the extraordinary success it enjoyed right from the start. In the second part, Jean Babilée himself takes over. A fantastic storyteller, the dancer transmits his passion for artistic adventures, evoking with modesty some more intimate memories. These interviews, interwoven with testimonies and extracts from choreographies, recompose the unusual career of an artist who, from the word go, was known as the “enfant terrible of dance”. 

Babilée, Jean

French dancer, choreographer and actor.


After studying at the École de danse de l'Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Ballet School), he drove his professional career to suit his whims and exactingness. As such, he vacillated between periods of fame and periods of choreographic abandon. Although he began at the Ballets de Cannes in 1940, it was whilst he was at the Ballets des Champs-Élysées, between 1945 and 1949, that he became known as one of the greatest dancers of his generation and that he created his first choreographies. He was then invited to the Ballet Théâtre, to the Paris Opera, to the Scala and to the Staatsoper, then went on to found his own company (1956-1959). For a while he moved to cinema and theatre, then composed a ballet via computer for television. He directed the Ballet du Rhin over the 1972-1973 season. In 1979, he made a sensational comeback in Béjart’s Life, which he danced until 1985. 


A somewhat out-of-the-ordinary dancer, who declared that dance was not a job, but a frame of mind, he developed a highly-personal way of working and, as such, sculpted a body which was always ready to engage in athletic, streamlined and ethereal dance, which conveyed an impression of perfect impregnability and naturalness, even during the acrobatic sequences which he adored. He rarely performed repertoire as he favoured creation, which included le Jeune Homme et la Mort (1946, R. Petit) which would give him legendary status alongside N. Philippart, his future wife.


His style of dancing was the formal component of his choreographies characterized by expressivity abounding in tenderness and poetry, which was particularly well appreciated.


Source : Marie Françoise Bouchon, Philippe Le Moal, Dictionnaire de la danse, Larousse, 1999

Le Mystère Babilée

Artistic direction / Conception : Patrick Bensard

Choreography : Jean Babilée

Production / Coproduction of the video work : Lieurac productions, Cinémathèque de la danse, Muzzik, Videogram Paris, La Cinquième. Participation : CNC, ministère de la Culture et de la Communication (DMDTS)

Duration : 120'

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