All About Pointe > Great Ballerinas > Emma Livry



Perhaps the greatest tragedy of ballet's Romantic Era was not a staged presentation. Emma Livry was one of the brightest of the rising stars at the Paris Opera. Although not especially pretty, she possessed such technical prowess and such delicate epaulment that even at a young age a gloriously successful career seemed guaranteed.

She caught the eye of Marie Taglioni, the ballerina who originated the image of the ethereal, delicate Romantic Ballerina. Taglioni was so impressed by Emma's talent that she created her only ballet, Le Papillon, for her.

Like all dancers of her day, Emma wore a 'Romantic Tutu", a long, finely-layered, billowing tulle skirt. Because stages were lighted with exposed gas lights, accidents were frequent and dancers were advised to wear fire-proof muslin to protect themselves. But like so many dancers, Emma declined to wear the heavy, unattractive muslin and the decision cost her life.

During a rehearsal of The Dumb Girl of Portici, Emma's skirt caught fire. Her friends and colleagues rushed to smother the flames but Emma was severely burned. She died after eight months of extreme suffering. The luminous dancing career of Emma Livry was extinguished at the mere age of twenty-one.

By Christina Towle

© 2000 Gaynor Minden, Inc.