Marie Salle, (1707-1756)
Marie Sallé, one of the most prominent dancers of her time, was a daughter of a tumbler. She was taught dancing very early and made her debut in 1718 at the St. Laurent's Fair in an opera-comique by Lesaye titled La Princesse Carisme. She toured in fairs for years and in 1721 appeared for the first time in the Opera in Paris in Les Fetes Venitiennes. She became a student of Francoise Prevost at the Academie Royale, but the jealousy of the older danseuse kept her from advancing rapidly. In 1725 John Rich took her to London where she first appeared in Love's Last Shift in entreacte divertissement with her brother. She danced with her brother through- out her career. Later she danced in Caracteres de la Danse.
She stayed in London for two years and returned to Paris where she danced at the Opera. She danced a solo entree, but for the next few months was in the corps de ballet. In about a year however she was recognized as a dancer of great talent. The rivalry with Camargo which became a feature of both dancers' careers began at this time. During the next few years she alternated her time between London and Paris. She was a noted intellect and associated with the men of letters of her time.
She was a reformer in dance. In London in 1734 she appeared in her own production of "Pygmalion". She discarded the cumbersome dress of the day and danced in a muslin costume, her hair down and unornamented. This was in line with her belief that dance should be natural and expressive.
A review of her endeavor read: "For nearly two months Pygmalion has been given without any sign of failing interest...You can imagine, Sir, what the different stages of such an action can become when mimed and danced with the refined and delicate grace of Mlle. Sallé. She has dared to appear in this entree without pannier, skirt or bodice and with her hair down; she did not wear a single ornament on her head. Apart from her corset and petticoat she wore only a simple dress of muslin draped about her in the manner of a Greek statue."
Salle retired in 1740 and many of her reforms were adopted by her successors. She was championed by reformer Noverre who agreed with her precepts. As a dancer she was loved for her naturalness, grace and lack of affectation. As a women she was known for her intelligence and virtue.
(First published May 1991)