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Earliest Usage of Term "Star" ("Étoile") in Ballet?


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#1 odinthor

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Posted 09 November 2011 - 05:25 PM

[size=4]I've had the impression that using the term "star" for the most talented (or at least most renowned!) performers originated in the world of Ballet by the early 1800s, subsequently spreading to the other performing arts; but I'm questioning my impression. Can those familiar with early dance literature give any citations of early usage of the term "star" (or, more likely, "étoile") in this way in Ballet? Thanks for your thoughts![/size]

#2 Amy Reusch

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 04:35 PM

Forgive me, i am not who you wish to hear from... but I couldn't help but wonder if in the presence of the Sun King other luminaries were "stars".

#3 odinthor

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 08:18 PM

I'd suspect that, in the presence of a beaming Louis XIV, the prudent stars carefully hid whatever light they had under bushel baskets...

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 09:48 AM

I've always wondered about this, too. Ivor Guest would know! Were Camargo and Salle and Dupre "etoiles"? I agree that those at court would not be called stars, even the magnificent Louis. Amateurs cannot be etoiles, I'm sure. But when? Hope somebody knows!

#5 bart

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 04:21 PM

From Ivor Guest's short book, The Paris Opera Ballet:

The title of etoile only became official in 1938. Solange Schwarz was the first ballerina to bre so nominated (i9n 1938), and Serge Peretti the first male dancer (1941).


I notice, however, that Guest uses the term "star" for dancers going back at least as far as Taglioni, and "premiere danseuse etoile" for 20th century Paris dancers prior to Schwarz. It seems that the use of "star" was common (unofficially) in ballet as in other performing arts, for professional dancers at least.

Louis Dupre, "le grand Dupre," emerged in Paris in 1714, the year of Louis XIV's death. Here, from Guest, is something written about him in his youth. (Translation is from Guest's book.):

When the great Dupre, with haughty mien
and crowning plumes, advanced upon the stage,
it was as if one were seeing a god claiming worship
and coming to take part in the dances of mortals.

As if one were seeing a god claiming worship -- a pretty good way to express what it means to be a 'STAR.". Clearly, there were serious balletomanes haunting the salles of the Paris Opera even in 1714.

#6 odinthor

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 05:13 PM

Interesting--thanks! The best I can do, so far, is only that the Oxford English Dictionary--by which i mean in this case an abridgement of the OED dating to the 1930s (hey, it's what I have on my own bookshelves)--gives the earliest usage of "star" in the "performing luminary" sense as 1824. But (1) my abridgement doesn't give the 1824 quote it's citing, so I don't know if it was referring to a ballet dancer; (2) it of course doesn't address "étoile" but only "star" proper; and (3) it's likely that the OED has advanced in its work since the 1930s . . . But 1824 gives us a (going backwards) starting point--certainly in the Taglioni era, with her debut in 1822.


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