The Romantic Ballet in Paris

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Ivor Guest’s history of ballet in Paris, 1820-1847

The age of Romanticism produced some of the best-loved ballets of all time, including La Sylphide and Giselle. It was a period when legendary ballerinas such as Marie Taglioni, Fanny Elssler, Pauline Montessu and Carlotta Grisi captured the hearts of their audiences, creating a celebrity-driven market for gossip, statuettes, ballet prints and fashion accessories.

Here, told with clarity and insight, is the story of the Romantic ballet in Paris, its stars, choreographers and composers, and its fiercely partisan public. Beginning his account in the 1820s, Ivor Guest shades in the background to the triumphant premiere of the first Romantic ballet, La Sylphide, and describes the profound influence of Marie Taglioni, the originator of the Romantic dance style. Drawing on the writings of French author and critic Theophile Gautier, Guest vividly recounts the celebrated rivalry between Taglioni and Elssler, the successful (and occasionally disastrous) appearances of the period’s leading ballerinas and danseurs, culminating with the all-important première of Giselle in 1841.

This detailed and definitive study, now completely revised and updated, is based on an exhaustive study of the archives of the Paris Opera and printed and pictorial sources of the time. The Romantic Ballet in Paris will find a place on the shelves of every serious follower of ballet. It is a must for anyone wishing to understand the origins of the ballet blanc, the true flavour of Romantic balletand the supremacy of the ballerina in the historical imagination.

Dance Books, 2008. Hardcover, 500 pages including appendices, index and 48 pages of black and white illustrations.


1. The Triumph of Romanticism
2. The Dancers’ World
3. The Opéra Dispossessed
4. Aumer Strikes his Claim
5. An Accident-prone Ballet
6. Blache’s Mars et Vénus
7. The Coming of Marie Taglioni
8. The Scenarist to the Rescue
9. The Aumer-Scribe Partnership Continues
10. The Porte-Saint-Martin: An Alternative Arena
11. The Turning Point
12. The Conflict of Rôles: Temptress and Spirit
13. Of Temptation and Revolt
14. A New Star Rises
15. Louis Henry’s Swansong
16. The Eclipse of Marie Taglioni
17. The Supremacy of Fanny Elssler
18. Elssler’s Last Parisian Triumphs
19. Three Wayward Dancers
20. Giselle: Gestation of a Masterpiece
21. More Laurels for Carlotta Grisi
22. Coping with the Absence of Carlotta
23. A Sad Farewell and Some New Faces
24. Carlotta Takes to Comedy
25. The End of the Pillet Regime
26. An Afterword