The Marquis de Cuevas and Serge Lifar duel.

World Wide Photos, Courtesy DM Archives

#TBT: That One Time Paris Opéra Ballet's Director Got Into an Actual Duel Over a Ballet

On March 29, 1958, a question of rights to a particular ballet led to an illegal duel between a choreographer and an impresario.


When then–Paris Opéra Ballet director Serge Lifar demanded that the International Ballet withdraw his Noir et Blanc from its program, the company's impresario, Jorge de Cuevas (better known as the Marquis de Cuevas), ignored the injunction. It was staged anyway, leading Lifar to approach Cuevas at intermission and throw his handkerchief in his face; the Marquis responded by slapping Lifar.

The next morning Lifar's representatives challenged Cuevas to a duel. The two men met a few days later by accident, with Lifar reportedly remarking, "I feel sorry for you, you can hardly see. But I'll make you dance a minuet to my épée." Though both soon seemed ready to let the matter go, their representatives' fervor and a deluge of press coverage led the pair to meet for a "secret" duel outside Paris—with some 50 reporters and photographers in tow.

Lifar stands with one hand on his hip, the other arm, still wearing a protective glove, extended as a doctor applies a bandage. The Marquis de Cuevas walks with his back to the camera, flanked by his two witnesses.

Lifar has his nicked arm bandaged by a doctor after the duel.

World Wide Photos, Courtesy DM Archives

Cuevas ultimately won the day, wounding Lifar's arm in the fourth round. After, the two men "embraced, declaring their mutual admiration and respect," according to a report in the May 1958 issue of Dance Magazine—the end of a backstage drama fit for a ballet.

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