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Mlle Bessy, la force d'un destin

Ministère de la Culture 2002

Choreographer(s) : Bessy, Claude (France) Kelly, Gene (United States)

Present in collection(s): Ministère de la Culture

Video producer : Ciné développement, Mezzo, Odyssée

en fr

Mlle Bessy, la force d'un destin

Ministère de la Culture 2002

Choreographer(s) : Bessy, Claude (France) Kelly, Gene (United States)

Present in collection(s): Ministère de la Culture

Video producer : Ciné développement, Mezzo, Odyssée

en fr

Mlle Bessy, la force d'un destin

The unique and sumptuous setting of this portrait, the Opéra de Paris opens up its doors, from the wings to the flies, not to mention the rooftops, for one of its most eminent figures, Claude Bessy. A former Etoile, and director of the dance school since 1972, the Dame traces some sixty years devoted to her art. Nicolas Ribowski follows her reverently through this temple where she seems to reign as lady of the house. 

She was nine years old in the 1940s when she stepped onto the Opéra stage for the first time. Under the aegis of Serge Lifar and Georges Balanchine, she would become one of its greatest stars. With the exception of an escapade to the American Ballet, she never left Garnier. A dancer and choreographer, she revolutionised the repertoire by introducing jazz, with the complicity of Gene Kelly. In the 2002 season, “Mlle Bessy” returned to the stage for Le Concours, signed by Maurice Béjart, her longstanding accomplice. Manuel Legris and Laetitia Pujol, her former students, whose partner she is today, narrate this unusual adventure. In the costume wardrobe, she rediscovers that of Phaedra, designed for her by Cocteau. On the rooftops, out of bounds, she scrambles around with Marie-Claude Pietragalla, each one remembering some anecdote as a petit rat in the corps de ballet. 

Bessy, Claude

After studying at the Paris Opera Ballet School, she joined the company’s corps de ballet in 1946. In 1956 she was nominated Danseuse Étoile and went on to have an illustrious career there. Invited abroad, she performed with the ABT (1958 and 1959) and with the Bolshoi in Moscow (1961). She was appointed for a year as director of the Paris Opera Ballet (1970-1971), then directed the Opera Ballet School from 1972 to 2004. She featured in several films (in particular Invitation to the Dance, directed by G. Kelly, 1956) and is the author of the books Danseuse étoile (1961) and La Danse pour passion (2006).


With her feminine, sensual, sculptural beauty, she shone in a variety of dramatic styles. As a classical repertoire performer, she appeared in many creations produced by Serge Lifar and Gene Kelly amongst others and Maurice Béjart chose her for the reproduction of Boléro in 1970. She created several choreographies, including Play Bach (1962) and Mouvements (1980), for the Paris Opera Ballet School students. She brought her experience to this institution, which she reformed, managed to decentralize it to Nanterre and implemented boarding facilities. Strong-willed, she established high-level training there which, although continuing to uphold French academic tradition, opened up to other techniques and disciplines. By organizing annual open days, performances and tours, she was key to the School’s renown in France and abroad.


Source : Germaine Prudhommeau, Nathalie Lecomte, Dictionnaire de la danse, dir. Philippe Le Moal, Larousse, 2008

Kelly, Gene

Eugene Curran Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the third son of Harriet Catherine (Curran) and James Patrick Joseph Kelly, a phonograph salesman. His father was of Irish descent and his mother was of Irish and German ancestry.


 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the largest and most powerful studio in Hollywood when Gene Kelly arrived in town in 1941. He came direct from the hit 1940 original Broadway production of "Pal Joey" and planned to return to the Broadway stage after making the one film required by his contract. His first picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was Pour moi et ma mie (1942) with Judy Garland. What kept Kelly in Hollywood were "the kindred creative spirits" he found behind the scenes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The talent pool was especially large during World War II, when Hollywood was a refuge for many musicians and others in the performing arts of Europe who were forced to flee the Nazis. After the war, a new generation was coming of age. Those who saw Un Américain à Paris (1951) would try to make real life as romantic as the reel life they saw portrayed in that musical, and the first time they saw Paris, they were seeing again in memory the seventeen-minute ballet sequence set to the title song written by George Gershwin and choreographed by Kelly. The sequence cost a half million dollars (U.S.) to make in 1951 dollars. Another Kelly musical of the era, Chantons sous la pluie (1952), was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for its National Film Registry. Kelly was in the same league as Fred Astaire, but instead of a top hat and tails Kelly wore work clothes that went with his masculine, athletic dance style.


Gene Kelly died at age 83 of complications from two strokes on February 2, 1996 in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California.


Source : Imdb

Mlle Bessy, la force d'un destin

Artistic direction / Conception : Nicolas Ribowski

Choreography : Gene Kelly, Claude Bessy

Production / Coproduction of the video work : Ciné développement, Mezzo, Odyssée ; Participation : CNC, ministère de la Culture et de la Communication (DMDTS)

Duration : 53'

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