Lillan Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, his companion

Serge Lifar

Since you left the terrestrial stage for a world that I know nothing about, but in which you have surely found a place in keeping with your aura, every day I have felt the need to express my gratitude for the privilege that you gave me of sharing thirty years of your life, which flew by like an unreal and fleeting moment. Beyond the intense emotions occasioned by your art and its influence in the world, I appreciated above all the diversity of your personality: your sensitive and generous soul in both private and public life, and the nobility of your heart that stood above human pettiness. Not long before your last departure, I will never forget the words you uttered with such gentleness and courage:
‘I am not afraid of dying
I have never speculated
I have only loved’.
Very dear Serge, whether in light or in shadow, you were always a great master

Emission Kiev – en mémoire de Serge Lifar, France Inter, 1994 :

Serge Lifar by Attilio Labis (November 2001)

Serge Lifar

A great name in the dance world and a great master for those who had the privilege of navigating through their art under his benevolent guidance…
An inspired choreographer and a consummate artist.

A performer who was transfigured by the figures that he personified.
When he played Napoleon, he was Napoleon. When he played a pharaoh, he was a pharaoh, and in Icarus he burned his wings in the sun and symbolically died on the earth, consumed by the ambition to exceed human potential… In this connection, we could speak of his mystical side, which might go unnoticed by those who knew him only superficially, for in these moments of transfiguration, he was overwhelmed by the fact of having another, impalpable inner life. At such times he lived inwardly, detached from the world. During a tour in Egypt, we were both inside a pyramid and contemplating the room that had contained the sarcophagus of a pharaoh. Since Lifar was not saying anything, apparently lost in the mystery of the place, I broke the silence and said: “Your place is here, master”. He looked at me and replied: “”Do you think so, Labis, do you think so?” At that moment, he was the pharaoh. We see a person according to our own criteria and memories.

Personally, I have the memory of a charming, kind and good-natured person, sometimes touchingly so. He had a poetic way of talking about the dance, like the feel of the tip of a dancer’s toe on the ground. We talk of classical ballet, a universal art… he attached a great deal of importance to the rise of this French invention called classical ballet, which he emphatically sublimated.

One day, he told me that the “Italians and Russians have interesting temperaments for the dance [he meant the extremes that characterise great sensitivity and a passionate, at times, uncontrollable expression], but you, the French, you have something that is rare and that no one else has: that is, a sense of measure”. He was obviously not talking about music, but of the precise gesture, where it has to be in order to maintain balance and the sense of movement. He had a genius for never forgetting himself when he wrote a dedication. He once dedicated a superb photograph from his Gisèle of the 1930s “To Attilo Labis, a magnificent Albert Loïs in the Lifarian tradition”. It was a generous compliment for me, but also for himself…

Lifar was scientist of the stage, with a perfect knowledge of the artists who had to be in such or such a role. And if he was upset when the dancers had botched their entrance or lacked musical feeling, he would say—and this was the supreme insult—”Go dance in Angoulême!” In his eyes, Angoulême was the worst of all provinces, yet, one day several years later, during a trip of the Paris Opera, he performed in Angoulême. Lifar stands for developing instinct before thought, aesthetics before placement, combined with knowledge and the mastery of his art.

Yvette Chauviré, Star Ballerina of the Paris Opera

“His good humour, his enthusiasm, his patience, his amazing presence and his magnetism caused us to give him our best, the clock no longer mattered. We breathed an atmosphere of constant creativity. All this contributed greatly to my preserving an engaging and highly respectful memory of him. The Master remains the great choreographer, the author of a glorious period for the French dance”.

Joseph Kessel

“Imagine a young boy who pretends to be eighteen, but looks fifteen, a slender and hard body with the shoulders of a child, the darkish and slant-eyed face of a Tartar, burned by quick, tender and merry green eyes, the eyes of a puppy amused by everything… His gestures have this abruptness that time has not yet eliminated. The smile is charmingly trusting… On top of all this, naiveté, joy, triumph”

Jean Cocteau

“Whenever Lifar dances, I see blood: his knees are wounded, his mouth is a wound, his veins open. It literally flows, not the red blood that the crowd and families quickly hide in sheets, but the soul’s blood, the loss of which exhausts us and which is the perspiration of love… When this supernatural, stigmata-like privilege is compounded with the grace of youth, then dance, instead of being a somewhat ridiculous art, finds its sublime and religious character again…”

Paul Valéry

Paul Valéry

“Can the ballet exist without music? Lifar’s idea is a powerful one because it meets with truth. And what’s more astonishing for me is that I have begun to write poetry that is born only of rhythm… the dancer’s feet can not only speak and write but also think…”

Charles de Gaulle

“At the moment when you are leaving the Paris Opera, to which you have devoted all your artistic activity for so many years for the greater fame of our National Ballet, I want to repeat my admiration for your great talent and express my thanks for the personal part that you have played in spreading French culture abroad”.

Lycette Darsonval, Star Ballerina of the Paris Opera

Serge Lifar

“Serge Lifar was an idol and a genius for me. I became his pupil when I was very young and later was his partner for many years. I have admired all of his creations. He had the gift of being able to bring out the personality of his partners. His neoclassical language has borne fruit and among his disciples are such stars as Roland Petit, Maurice Béjart, Françoise Adret, Claude Bessy… and many others”

Jean Giraudoux

“It is probably you, Lifar, who is the closest to what the original dance of the Greeks may have been…”

Louis Jouvet

Louis Jouvet

Bravo, I applaud you with all my heart, so happy for your success. Everything that you have done is so sincere, so real, so moving, and so new! I wait very impatiently to see your naked King