Art and Impulse, Fire and Skill



In the late 1860s and early 1870s, there was no bigger star in America than Giuseppina Morlacchi. Morlacchi was trained at la Scuola di Ballo del Teatro la Scala, the best ballet school in the world in her hometown of Milan, Italy. It was under the watchful eye of the world's greatest ballet teacher, Carlo Blasis—the man who literally wrote the book on ballet when he published The Code of Terpsichore—that Morlacchi rose to become not just a prima ballerina, but an artist of such grace, poise, and beauty that she could steer her own path through a world otherwise dominated by men.


Her art and artistry took her from Milan to Turin and then Lisboa, Portugal, to Germany and then Paris, and finally to London, where she was featured at Her Majesty's Royal Theatre for nearly a decade. Sophisticated Americans, longing for the artistic credibility that an artist of Morlacchi's stature would provide, read in newspapers that the world's most famous dancer demanded—and was very much worth—a staggering $500 a night to dance in America's finest theaters. In 1867 a manager named Don Juan De Pol partnered with the wealthy panorama painter and would-be theater magnate John Banvard to pay Morlacchi's asking price to have her star in their new show "The Devil's Auction" on Broadway.

Reviews of Morlacchi in the Broadway show, and in newspapers across the country as she toured with the troupe, demonstrate that the investment was worthwhile. The New York Herald reviewer wrote that “Signorina Morlacchi fully justified the prestige of her European reputation. The lithe and symmetrical figure, the flashing, dark eyes, the graceful and dashing movements of this fascinating ‘queen of the dance’ elicited the heartiest applause.” The Boston Daily Transcript's reviewer stated that "in form she is the ideal of a danseuse: slender in figure, graceful in movement, and with a bright and fascinating countenance which always expresses the poetic emotions illustrated by her artistic achievements. She is, perhaps, as nearly perfect as any danseuse who has ever visited Boston." And in Philadelphia, the critic for the Philadelphia Age wrote that "The dancing of M'lle Morlacchi is a union of art and impulse, of fire and skill which are seldom combined in one artiste to such an extent, and her efforts are genuine triumphs."


It is little wonder how Texas Jack felt when he was introduced to Morlacchi in December of 1872. He was set to star alongside his friend Buffalo Bill Cody in a new show called The Scouts of the Prairie, and Morlacchi had been hired to play a leading role. Morlacchi was asked to help teach Jack the finer points of acting, and she graciously agreed. Buffalo Bill's wife wrote that at their introduction, “Texas Jack put out his hand in a hesitating, wavering way. His usually heavy, bass voice cracked and broke. There were more difficulties than ever now, for Jack had fallen in love, at sight . . . And never did a pupil work harder than Texas Jack from that moment!”

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