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IU Jacobs School of Music

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Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Thursday, February 5, 2009

IU Jacobs Professor Violette Verdy awarded France’s highest decoration

Feb. 5, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Violette Verdy, a distinguished professor in the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, has been named a Chevalier (Knight) in France's National Order of the Legion of Honor, an award from President M. Nicolas Sarkozy. The order is France's highest decoration.

"I was totally taken by surprise, honored and delighted," said Verdy, one of the premier ballet dancers of the twentieth century. "My whole family has great respect for the order. The men in the family have gone to war. We always thought it was reserved for military heroes, and I never thought of it for myself. I'm amazed; I'm really amazed and deeply, deeply touched."

Verdy will receive the medal in Paris this June.

Photo by: IU School of Music

Violette Verdy

Print-Quality Photo

The National Order of the Legion of Honor -- the first modern order of merit -- was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.

"This is an incredible and well-deserved honor for Violette," said Michael Vernon, chair of the IU Ballet Department. "It is very fitting for someone who, through her teaching and coaching, has given back so much to so many dancers over the years. We in the ballet department at IU are certainly lucky and privileged to have Distinguished Professor Verdy -- who has worked with the brightest stars of the ballet world in our time -- working on the faculty on a daily basis with our majors."

Born in Brittany, France, Violette Verdy began her ballet training in France in 1942 under the tutelage of Carlotta Zambelli and, later, with Rousane Sarkissian and Victor Gsovsky. Her first engagement was in 1945 with Roland Petit's "Ballets des Champs-Elysees," later called "Ballets de Paris," with whom she toured the United States for the first time in 1953.

In 1954, Verdy accepted an invitation from the London Festival Ballet to join them for a season in London and an American tour. After her return to Europe, she danced the full-length Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet as guest ballerina with Milan's Teatro Alla Scala. Verdy was asked to join American Ballet Theatre in 1957. There, she premiered the title role in Birgit Culberg's Miss Julie, as well as many others.

Upon invitation of George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, Verdy joined the New York City Ballet in 1958. She danced more than 25 principal roles in a performance career that extended through 1976. Balanchine created roles for her in such ballets as Liebeslieder Waltzer, Episodes, Jewels, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Glinkaiana, Sonatine, La Source, Pulcinella and the second act pas de deux in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Jerome Robbins also wrote roles for her in Dances at a Gathering, In the Night and Beethoven Pas de Deux.

Verdy accepted numerous engagements as a guest ballerina with most of the major American companies and was a frequent guest at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and on tour. Internationally, she appeared with England's Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, Dame Margot Fonteyn's RAD Gala in London, Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet Rambert and the Stuttgart, Munich and Hamburg Ballets. During her frequent guest engagements, Verdy's repertoire encompassed the classics Giselle, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, Sleeping Beauty and Coppelia.

Film performances include a starring role in Dream Ballerina and appearances with Jean-Louis Barrault, Madeleine Renaud's Theater Company. Since 1949, Verdy has been featured frequently on French, British, Canadian and American television. The documentary Violette, A Life in Dance, produced by WGBH, Boston, was released in 1982. In 2001, Dominique Delouche's documentary Violette et Mr. B. premiered in France and the United States.

Verdy is the author of two children's books, Giselle, or the Wilis, published in 1970 by McGraw Hill and reissued in 1977 by Marcel Dekker, and Of Swans, Sugar Plums and Satin Slippers, published in 1991 by Scholastic Books. Both were illustrated by Caldecott award-winning artist Marcia Brown. Victoria Huckenpahler wrote Verdy's first biography, Ballerina, published in 1976, and then a second biography, written in French by Florence Poudru and Dominique Delouche, titled Violette Verdy, was published in December 2008 by the Centre National de la Danse.

Numerous awards and honors have been presented to Verdy, including two from the French Government. She was honored with both the Chevalier from the Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1971, and then on December 31, 2008, Verdy was also named a Chevalier from the Ordre National de la Légion d'honneur. Other recent awards include the School of American Ballet's 2003 Artistic Achievements Award; both the 2005 New York International Ballet Competition and the 2005 International Ballet Festival of Miami "Grand Prix Gold Medal" and the 2007 Ballet2000 "Irène Lidova Lifetime Achievement Award," which honors the memory of a great personality that has been a beacon for several generations of artists of dance. She has been named Doctor of Humane Letters at Skidmore College, 1971, and Doctor of Arts at both Goucher College, 1987, and Boston Conservatory, 1997.

In 1977, Verdy became the first woman appointed artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet, serving in that capacity until 1980. In that year, E. Virginia Williams, founder of the Boston Ballet, invited her to join her as the company's co-artistic director. Verdy remained with the Boston Ballet until 1984, serving as the sole artistic director during 1983 and 1984. In 1984, she returned to New York City Ballet, where she held the title of Teaching Associate.

In addition to teaching at New York City Ballet, Verdy accepted teaching residencies and choreographic commissions at various institutions of higher education, including Harvard University, Boston University, University of Utah, University of Oklahoma, Indiana University, Goucher College, Florida State University at Tallahassee, Skidmore College, Harid Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Texas Christian University, New Mexico University, New York University and North Carolina School of the Arts. Verdy has sat on the jury and has taught girls' classes at Prix de Lausanne.

Since 1965, Verdy has choreographed for numerous national and international ballet companies, such as Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet of Flanders, Boston Ballet, Ballet du Nord, Chautauqua Institute for the Arts, Ballet Utah, School of the Paris Opera Ballet, American Festival, New York City Ballet, Ballet Arizona, Atlanta Ballet, Royal Ballet School and Ecole Nationale Superieure de Marseille.

Since August of 1996, Verdy has served as Distinguished Professor of Ballet at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington. She also contributes as artistic advisor for The Rock School of Ballet in Philadelphia, Penn. In the fall of 2008, the School of American Ballet announced that Verdy would serve as their first, and, initially only, permanent guest teacher. She continues to serve the world of dance internationally.

Verdy has taught at many ballet schools and companies, including Russia's Bolshoi Ballet Co., where she served as the first foreign teacher since Russia's 1917 revolution.