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234th Season

Jean Coralli


Jean Coralli (1779–1854), born Giovanni Coralli Peracini, was a French dancer and choreographer and later held the esteemed post of First Balletmaster of the Paris Opera Ballet. He is best known for the creation of the Romantic ballet Giselle which he choreographed in tandem with another French dancer, Jules Perrot.

Giovanni Coralli Peracini was born into a Bolognese family in Paris. He studied at the Paris Opera School. He made his dйbut as a dancer at the Paris Opйra in 1802. He perfomed with Sebastien Gallet‘s company in London from 1802-03; primo ballerino serio (in partnership with Teresa Coralli) in La Scala, Milan, in 1809 and 1810, danced with companies under Lorenzo Panzieri and Domenico Fabris, 1811; also a dancer, La Scala, 1812, 1814-15, and 1820, La Fenice, Venice, 1813 and 1820, and Teatro San Carlos, Lisbon, 1817; His debut as a choreographer was in Vienna. As a ballet master, Hofburgoperntheater (Hofoper), Vienna, 1805-7; also choreographer in Milan, 1813-15, Marseilles, 1815 and 1822, and Lisbon, 1817.

If ever a ballet master was in the right place at the right time, and in possession of the right skills and experience, it was Jean Coralli, who next turned up in Paris on the eve of the era we now call the era of the Romantic Ballet. He came in 1825 to serve as choreographer at that perennial proving ground for would-be Opera ballet masters, the Theatre de la Porte-Saint-Martin. Initial dance training at the Paris Opera and two decades of work throughout Western Europe had honed his skills and sharpened his theatrical perceptions. He was ready and waiting in 1831 when the brilliant entrepreneur, Louis Veron, took over the Opera directorship, and began looking for artists who would form the foundation of his theatrical empire. Marie Taglioni served as one cornerstone; Jean Coralli was another. He held the post of ballet master at the Paris Opйra under Vйron from 1831 to 1835, and then continued under a succession of directors until 1850. It was an auspicious time to be ballet master at the Opera, to work for audiences avid for ballet, and to create ballets for dancers like Fanny Elssler (for whom he created four works) and Carlotta Grisi (for whom he created one).

Coralli‘s vision of ballet fit well with Vйron‘s contention that audiences wanted spectacle, rapid action, variety, grandeur, and star dancers, for Coralli eschewed strict adherence to popular ballet d‘action principles. Instead of devoting all the elements of ballet--dancing, pantomime, machinery, dйcor, costumes, and music--to the depiction of a coherent dramatic action, he used them to create a succession of striking stage pictures. Though Coralli apparently could be difficult to work with, he appears to have been a master of collaboration, giving designers, musicians, and dancers ample opportunities to display their genius. He knew how to bring all the diverse elements that went to make a ballet together into a single integrated picture. The critic "J. T.", writing of La Tempкte, summed it up neatly: " ballets inhabit a different realm of ideas than did those of composers of other times: balletic action is hardly more than a vehicle for grouping dancers, a sort of frame which serves to show the dйcor" (La Quotidienne, 20 September 1834). Critic Jules Janin was delighted with the result, describing the inferno scene in La Tentation with relish--"a beautiful tumult, a sublime bacchanal, a picture from hell, an admirable cacophony of shapes, of sounds, of masks, of dances" (Le Journal des Debats, 27 June 1832). Many shared Janin‘s delight, for Coralli enjoyed considerable success in works such as La Tentation (where St. Anthony struggled against sensuality and the tumultuous forces of hell),La Tempete (with its supernatural mystery and shipwreck), and La Peri (in which oriental mysticism and eroticism served as the background).

Coralli gave full reign to the imaginations of brilliant designers like Ciceri and machinists like Constant, whose exploitation of new methods of lighting and scenery-painting enhanced the overall illusion of fantastic realities. There was the grand staircase in La Tentation that stretched into the depths of Hell, "supported by two monsters, muzzles gaping ... All hell‘s troops descend there: drums, trumpets, foot soldiers, hussars, artillery...". There was the flight of Ariel and Lea in La Tempete (based on the Shakespeare play) which was, as La Quotidienne described it, "performed with great lightness. The aerial perspective of the forest ... is painted with great skill, and is lit in a piquant manner. ... verisimilitude has never been so closely approached." A favourite scene in this work represented the sun rising, setting, and filtering through a forest.

Coralli did more than supply a vehicle for the display of other artists‘ talents. His dances were central to the creation of the illusion, whether it be that of a picturesque Italian village (La Tarentule), of the seething chaos of Hell (La Tentation), or the gentle moonlit mystery of a spirit-haunted forest (Giselle). As demonstrated in Giselle, he was a master craftsman who melded his dances into the fabric of ballets. Like other choreographers of the Romantic period (Filippo Taglioni for instance), he used dance not as incidental divertissement, but as a tool for the enhancement of atmosphere and illusion. His character dances in particular were highly popular during a period when anything foreign stimulated imaginations. J.T. found those in Le Diable boоteux "voluptuous, intoxicating, sweet, tender, lively and passionate." They not only depicted all the emotions of love, but contained the spirit of the Spanish people. Likewise, Hippolyte Prevost recognized the true talent behind the success of La Peri. "It is not therefore M. Gautier [writer of the scenario], but M. Coralli who is the true magician of this fairy tale. M. Gautier has repeated what others have made before him; M. Coralli, he has imagined a thousand delicious groups, a thousand charming pas. ... Honour therefore to M. Coralli!" (Le Constitutionnel, 19 July 1834).

Coralli‘s ability to create illusion through dance was most evident from his collaboration on Giselle. The great Jules Perrot created the dances for Giselle (Carlotta Grisi), but Coralli, as far as we can tell, contributed the corps dances. Giselle was not typical of Coralli‘s ballets in that its story required only two simple scenes, no grandeur, no rapid changes, and no bewildering stage transformations. Coralli rose to the occasion, especially in the second act, where it was his dances for the white, tulle-clad wilis that created the atmosphere of poetic mystery and sentimental femininity that had critics and audiences in raptures. The image of cool spirits wafting through moonlit mists relied upon the regular soloists and corps de ballet, that is on Coralli‘s work, not Perrot‘s. Hippolyte Prevost wrote in 1841, "Nothing is purer in design and truer in realization and character than the chorus dances." Another critic commented on the effect of Coralli‘s second act dances this way: " are charming dances and divinely light and vaporous groups; here is a delicate, fine and dainty fantasy. All these wilis‘ dances are true little masterpieces which impart the greatest honour to M. Coraly." He retired in 1848 and died in Paris, 1 May 1854.


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