By Lynn Ahrens
Many people are familiar with Edgar Degas’s ground-breaking sculpture, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans. There’s the original wax figure at Washington’s National Gallery, as well as a number of finely-wrought bronze castings at other art institutions around the world. This unique masterpiece has been copied, analyzed, critiqued, and even X-rayed.
But few know the real girl who posed for it. What was her name? How did this little upstart inspire a great artist? To this day, her enigmatic figure inspires ballerinas, intrigues researchers and scholars of art and invites the creators of novels, ballets and musical theater to imagine their own versions of her story.
Despite speculation, no one knows for sure what ever became of Marie van Goethem, the girl who posed for the sculpture. She vanished into the mists of history. But although we’ve compressed time and imagined the plot, you will find much of her known family background woven into the musical.
A lot has been written about Edgar Degas. Our focus is the period when he created the sculpture and exhibited it in the Sixth Impressionist Exposition. He was witty, but also argumentative and acerbic, and some of his actual quotes are used within the dialogue of our show.
In 1881, the Paris Opera Ballet was a world run by and created for men. These wealthy subscribers, known as abonnes, bought subscriptions to the season, and their silhouettes can be seen skulking in the corners of some of Degas’s paintings of dancers.
Degas chose to portray Marie van Goethem in three dimensions, not a pretty portrait, but an uncompromising representation of a young dancer’s difficult existence. He seems to have captured the simple truth of who she was— her poverty, stubborn spirit and aspiration–and also a universal truth about women trying to survive in a world of men. Out of the facts of her life, he imagined a masterpiece.
We think Marie must have changed him just a little, to have inspired such a moving work.
Marie, Dancing Still—A New Musical plays March 22-April 14, 2019. Click here for tickets. Featured photo by Mat Karas: NYC Ballet Principal Dancer Tiler Peck stars as Marie in Marie, Dancing Still.
About the Show:
Broadway visionaries meet ballet royalty. Five-time Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman (The Producers, Contact), Tony Award-winning authors Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once On This Island), and acclaimed New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck invite you backstage into 19th-century Paris, where glittering opulence hobnobbed with underworld dangers.
In this era of groundbreaking artistry, a girl named Marie (Peck) dreams of being the next star of the ballet. Despite the odds of her hard-scrabble life, she scrimps, saves and steals in pursuit of her ambitions. But when fate leads her to the studio of Impressionist Edgar Degas, she unknowingly steps into immortality—becoming the inspiration for his most famous sculpture ever: Little Dancer.
Also starring Tony Award nominee Terrence Mann (Pippin), Louise Pitre (Mamma Mia!) and Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba (Contact), Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical is the gorgeous new musical poised to conquer the stage—and your heart.