Jean Börlin  

Jean Börlin
Based on part of a text by Erik Näslund

Jean Börlin

Jean Börlin born in l893 in the northern Swedish coastal town of Harnösand was five years younger than Rolf de Mare. The two young men were from quite different class-backgrounds and as personalities differed in the extreme. Jean was blond, open, happy and childish; Rolf reserved, strict and serious yet they had one thing in common – their sexual orientation. Further each felt he had been betrayed by his mother. Rolf because of his mother’s divorce; Jean because his mother left her husband who was a sea captain. She took Jean to Stockholm, left him with her brother and then disappeared from the life of her son until many years later after he had become famous. She knew her brother’s family had artistic interests and would encourage her son's talents. By the age of eight Jean was a pupil at the Opera ballet school in Stockholm.


Thanks to a “schism" between the Russian choreographers Michel Fokine and Sergei Diaghilev, Fokine was engaged as a guest choreographer at the Opera ballet. Instead of following the hierarchical ranking system Fokine chose those dancers he thought best suited to the role. In this way Jean Börlin along with other young dancers in the corps de ballet, were given a chance to dance leading roles. But the enthusiasm that Fokine had aroused in the young dancers received no outlet and led to discontent. Jean Börlin tried to keep the flame alive through his own performances, and during the summers of 1915 and 1916 he did extensive tours of the Swedish provinces.
Fokine left Russia in 1918 and he along with Börlin were guests at de Maré’s country house that Spring. Jean received lessons during the summer months from Fokine while in Copenhagen where he appeared successfully in guest ballets. Börlin went to Paris where he was met by Nils Dardel and introduced to his friends, including Picasso. Rolf arrived in Paris and took Jean off to a study-tour of Spain and north Africa.

After the formation of the Ballets suédois are relation warned him in a letter of a witch hunt in Sweden including possible mudslinging and blackmail. Apart from homophobia another reason for the hatred was de Maré's company bled the Royal Opera of its leading young dancers. This letter was written after the publication of the scandalous article in The Fatherland. The slanders continued even after the Ballet Suédoise closed. Among Nils Dardel's friends in Paris were Jacques Hébertot, a newspaper and theatre man. Since the Theatre des Champs-Elysées happened to be free de Maré bought the lease and appointed
Hébertot director. Among the enthusiastic supporters of the new Ballets suédois was Jean Cocteau who became one of their foremost PR men.

Aesthetic development

At the première (October 25 1920) Börlin presented no less than four ballets with five more the following month.
In the five years of the company’s existence he created 24 ballets plus a number of solo compositions - and danced the leading role in all of them. No one was permitted to cast a shadow over de Maré's star - which led to the departure of several ballerinas. The dancers of the company did not go along with the extra-ordinary aesthetic development, and said they felt more like stage-props than dancers as in Leger’s La Creation du Monde. But even on a pure aesthetic basis the radicalism could not be carried further. This plus the near ten million Swedish crowns de Maré had lost in the venture brought a final dismal performance on l7th March 1925. Not only his grandmother but even his estranged mother helped him out on this occasion.

Another reason for de Maré’s decision was Börlin's health. After only two years
of almost super-human creative activity signs of over-exertion had revealed themselves. A reliance on drugs and alcohol developed, and the effects were fatal. Never ver slim he began to put on weight. Börlin became irritable and unpredictable and the cumulative effect led to de Maré’s reaction Börlin was bitter about de Maré's decision. The bitterness became personal and Börlin was replaced in Rolf’s affections by a young man named André Daven.
Börlin - out in the financial cold - toured with two female dancers from the company - mainly at hotels and ended up at a casino in South America notorious for its prostitutes.
6th December 1930 Börlin's heart gave up the struggle. In his hand was last letter from Rolf. Börlin was buried at his own wish in the cemetery of Pére Lachaise in Paris in January l931. He was 37.
,,I envy the painters,” Börlin once wrote, “their works are immortal."

Based on part of a text by Erik Näslund

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