Philippe Braunschweig: Founder of the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition

Nadine Meisner
Wednesday 14 July 2010 00:00
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The name of Philippe Braunschweig may be less familiar than the name of his creation, but that is a measure of its success. The Prix de Lausanne, which he founded in 1973, has been a major signpost in the career of many great ballet dancers; past winners who have gone on to become international stars include Carlos Acosta, Darcey Bussell and Diana Vishneva.

The Prix de Lausanne was the result of a series of encounters, with Philippe Braunschweig at their centre. He was born in 1928, the scion of a Jewish watch-making family, in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel at La Chaux-de-Fonds, the birthplace of Le Corbusier. At first he seemed destined to devote all his energies to the family business, Portescap. But as well as eventually becoming CEO of the firm, Braunschweig, who had studied physics at university, discovered another side to the physical and temporal world: that of the human body in harmonious and rhythmic motion.

Aged 20 and admiring the discipline of ballet, he had started lessons in Cannes and there he met his future wife, a dancer of Russian origin with the Ballet de Nice, Elvire Krémis. They married in 1952 and watched ballet round the world, including Maurice Béjart's Ballet du XXème Siècle in Brussels and Fonteyn and Nureyev in London. In 1972, on a visit to Cannes, they entered discussions with the great American ballerina Rosella Hightower (who then had a school in Cannes) about launching a competition in Lausanne the following year.

Hightower and Béjart agreed to offer the winners a year's scholarship in their schools, as did the Royal Ballet School in London. From the 30 competitors of the first Prix de Lausanne in 1973 the event expanded into a major ballet event. Today, a maximum of 75 candidates are selected from around the world and the number of participating schools has grown to 67. Today the competition's mission is to reveal the potential of talented dancers aged 15-18 and open doors to some of the best schools, and in certain cases to offer internships in leading companies.

Braunschweig was always conscious of the brevity of a dancer's performing life and with this in mind he created the OIRDP (Organisation internationale pour la reconversion des danseurs professionnels). Based in Lausanne, OIRDP supports dancers dealing with the psychological and economic stresses of retirement and helps them, where possible, to retrain in other careers.

In 1986, following the decline of the Swiss watch-making industry, Braunschweig sold his business to concentrate mostly on his dance activities. When Béjart ran into difficulties with the Brussels Théâtre de la Monnaie, it was Braunschweig who had the initiative to invite him to Lausanne to start the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in 1987. He was also on several Swiss business and science committees. He retired from running the Prix de Lausanne in 1997 and the same year was awarded a Médaille d'Or by Lausanne. He was also a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.

Philippe Braunschweig, businessman and founder of the Prix de Lausanne: born La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland 1928; married 1953 Elvire Krémis (died 2007; one son, one daughter); died Vevey, Switzerland 3 April 2010.

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