MICHEL RENAULT was a star of the Paris Opera ballet for almost two decades from the end of the Second World War. Tall, dark, with a rather slender build, he was very supple, with lithe, elongated extensions. His style was somewhat mannered, typical of the French school during Serge Lifar's reign as principal choreographer. Renault considered himself a disciple of Lifar's neo-classic style, and tried to capture in his dancing the brilliance and excitement that was always part of the Lifar showmanship. He was lively and popular.
Born in 1927, Renault began dance studies from an early age and entered the Paris Opera school at the age of 11. His teachers were Gustave Ricaux and Serge Peretti. He joined the company in 1944, during the Nazi occupation of France. Within two years, at the age of 18, he was promoted to premier danseur etoile, the youngest dancer on record to receive such a distinction.
His rapid rise to the top may be partly attributed to the drain on male dancers at a time when many able-bodied men were being transported to Germany and Poland, but his exceptional talent and eager learning ability stamped him for success. It is likely that Lifar's intrigues with the Nazi culture-hounds helped to ensure his survival from conscription, for the Opera remained open for the benefit of the German military and their wives.
After the war, Lifar came under a cloud for alleged complicity with the enemy. Dismissed from the Opera, he formed a touring group, Stars of the Paris Opera, which Renault joined along with other dancers loyal to Lifar, and they appeared for a season at the Cambridge Theatre, London, in 1946. By 1947 Lifar was reinstated at the Opera as artistic director but was forbidden to dance. Renault replaced him in Les Mirages (to music by Sauguet), Chevalier et la demoiselle (Gaubert), Guignol et Pandore (Jolivet) and other ballets including Giselle. During this time he was the first male dancer to be awarded the Nijinsky Prize. With the Opera ballet he toured north Africa and Canada in 1948 and South America in 1949-50.
In 1954 Renault appeared with the Opera company in their first season at Covent Garden, sometimes appearing in four ballets in one programme. He possessed a prodigious capacity for work and danced in a huge repertoire including Suite en blanc (Lalo), Istar (d'Indy), and Escale (Ibert). He extended his range, dancing in ballets of other choreographers, in Balanchine's Palais de cristal (Bizet), Apollon musagete (Stravinsky), in John Cranko's Belle Helene, George Skibine's Idylle and Harald Lander's Etudes. Leaving the Paris Opera in 1959, he toured the world with the ballerina Liane Dayde, appearing twice in Moscow. In 1964-65 he toured with a newly formed ensemble, Ballet Classique de Serge Lifar, throughout South America.
When his dancing days ended he turned to choreographing revues and cabarets in Paris nightclubs, and became a respected teacher at the Opera. Among today's etoiles are several whom he had a hand in forming.
In 1986 he wrote to Serge Lifar asking him to contribute a preface to his autobiography:
Vous avez ete le maitre absolut de 1929 a 1959. Je suis le temoin de votre vie de createur a l'Opera depuis 1942, date a laquelle je suis rentre a l'Opera.