Claire Motte, étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, died when she was just 48. She was a striking beauty and possessed a strong personality, such that Roland Petit created Esmeralda for her in his ballet Notre Dame de Paris.
Motte came through the school at the Paris Opera with teachers Carlotta Zambelli and Serge Lifar. Her strong technique permitted her to join the company when she was just 14, she became a première danseuse at 18, and étoile from 1960 until 1979.
Among the many ballets in which she created roles were Lifar’s Chemin de la Lumiere in 1957 and Roland Petit’s Turangalila in 1968.
She was seen on television in the title role of Stravinsky’s The Firebird in 1972, and again in Phedre in 1973, the Jean Cocteau ballet based on the Greek tragedy.
Rudolf Nureyev, who had been befriended by Motte before his defection from the Kirov Ballet in 1961, appointed her ballet mistress of the Paris Opera Ballet immediately after he became its artistic director in 1983.
These two photos underline her strident personality: she walked the tightrope in a gala in Los Angeles in 1976, and a year later she was on horseback in Paris with fellow étoile (and future director of the company’s ballet school) Claude Bessy.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.