ean Börlin, born in 1893 in the northern Swedish coastal town
of Harnösand, was five years younger than Rolf de Maré. 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
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
a 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 the fact that 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.
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
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 very 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 the 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
Colin de la Motte-Sherman