Blanche Allarty excited circus crowds in the late 1800s with her superior equestrian abilities. A born crowd-pleaser, she continually innovated new tricks to keep her fans yearning for more. In a male-dominated world, Blanche Allarty became famous for gracefully executing death-defying tricks.
She rode dressage or “upper school” known for classical moves favored by courtly European riding academies. Her horses entered the ring in a gallop, then pirouetted, high stepped in the Spanish walk, and moved forward and sideways with their legs crisscrossing. They would rear to full height then walk on their hind legs. This high-stakes version of upper school moves came with great risk to rider and horse alike.
According to Hilda Nelson, author of Great Horsewomen of the 19th Century in the Circus Allarty became one of France’s “most famous and admired ecuyère of haute école (a female rider of the upper school)
She frequently dressed in “the elegant amazone mode, riding sidesaddle, or dressed in male apparel, riding astride. She also executed not only equestrian acrobatics but also trapeze acrobatics.”
Blanche Allarty was among the first women in history to perform virtuoso dressage and she was highly respected for it. In her book The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History Susanna Forrest writes:
“Their routines were every bit as demanding as those of the men, and there’s a wonderful photograph of the ecuyère Blanche Allarty-Molier riding in full Edwardian rig–rolls of hair under a picture hat, rigid, coreseted waist, leg-of-mutton sleeves up to her chin–as her horse flies in a full capriole.”
As with so many performers from the era, Biographical details from the life of Blanche Allarty remain scant. Fortunately, we still have photographs of her as well as many circus posters, including at least one by the famed artist, Jean Paleologue.
We know that Allarty was thirteen when she took riding lessons from Ernest Molier who started the Cirque Molier in Paris in 1879.
Allarty made her debut at the Franconi circus (the Cirque des Champs-Elysées) known for its vaulting and equestrian acrobatics. She later married her former teacher, Ernest Molier, and starred in his circus.
She was an inventive performer who created increasingly difficult routines that mesmerized her fans. In addition to her equestrienne expertise, she was a gymnast and an acrobat. She later devised performances that included spectacular trapeze acts on horseback.
Early in her career she performed the death-defying acrobatic act on horseback known as “voltige à la Richard.” It was named after its North American creator Davis Richard. He was killed while executing the dangerous trick. Allarty ran closely beside the horse that was without saddle or bridle. She jumped hurdles with the horse then jumped on the horse as it continued clearing hurdles with her standing on the his back.
Blanche Allarty had a gift with animals. She trained her own horses, believing that the more contact she had with them, the greater was their mutual trust in the ring. She shared her stardom with all of her horses, but her favorite was d’Artagnan.
Circus performance was considered a noble pursuit in nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe. Circuses were housed in grand theatrical palaces that seated up to six thousand people. These were permanent structures rather than movable tents. Blanche Allarty performed in many of the greatest circuses across Europe and Russia.
In 1897, she became director of the Cirque Franco-Arabe. This is where she became known for performing intricate riding tricks on camels.
Circuses featured hundreds of fearless women in the 19th century. Because they were athletes, they were able to wear short costumes that revealed their arms and legs. The circus was a safe place where women could shed restrictive contemporary mores of Victorian society. In the ring, they could thrive in spite of their gender or race.
Among the famous women of the day were daring aerialists Leona Dare, Miss LaLa, and Zazel, the first human to be shot from a canon. The names of many other fabulous female performers have been lost to history. And the information we have on those we can name is often flimsy at best. Consider Selika Lazevski for whom we have nothing but six spectacular carte de visite (CdV) that indicate she performed on horses.
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