Obituary: Michel Renault

Michel Renault, dancer, choreographer and teacher, born 1927, premier danseur etoile Paris Opera 1944-59, died Paris 29 January 1993.

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.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?