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Violette Verdy, original name Nelly Armande Guillerm, (born December 1, 1933, Pont-l’Abbé, Brittany, France—died February 8, 2016, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.), French ballerina and dance director who was an admired star of New York City Ballet for nearly 20 years (1958–77). Her exceptional charm and musicality inspired George Balanchine and other choreographers to create roles that showcased her eloquent and buoyant dancing.
Guillerm began dancing as a child, most notably with Madame Rousane and later Victor Gsovsky, both in Paris. She made her stage debut in 1945 in Roland Petit’s ballet Le Poète shortly before she joined the choreographer’s Les Ballets des Champs-Élysées. She adopted her stage name, Violette Verdy, when she starred in Ludwig Berger’s 1950 film Ballerina (U.S. title Dream Ballerina). She continued to dance in Petit’s new company, Les Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, notably originating the part of the bride in his Le Loup (1953). In addition, she took roles with the London Festival Ballet and Ballet Rambert in London and with La Scala in Milan. In 1957 she joined American Ballet Theatre and performed principal parts, of which the most celebrated was the title role in Swedish choreographer Birgit Cullberg’s Miss Julie.
From 1958 to 1977 Verdy was principal ballerina in New York City Ballet, where Balanchine was artistic director. Among the ballets he created for her were the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (1960), Liebeslieder Walzer (1960), and the “Emeralds” section of Jewels (1967). Jerome Robbins designed parts for her in Dances at a Gathering (1969) and In the Night (1970).
After Verdy retired from the stage, she was artistic director (1977–80) of the Paris Opéra Ballet and then became co-artistic director and later director of Boston Ballet. After 1984 she focused on teaching and coaching; from 1996 she taught ballet at Indiana University. Verdy was honoured (1971) as a knight of France’s Order of Arts and Letters, and in 2008 she was named a knight of the Legion of Honour.