Betty Rigl in The Black Crook, Niblo’s Garden, New York, 1866

September 29, 2013

Betty Rigl (1850-after 1903), Austrian-born American dancer, as she appeared as one of the principal dancers in the ‘Devil Dance’ in The Black Crook, a musical extravaganza produced at Niblo’s Garden, New York, on 12 September 1866
(photo: C.D. Fredericks & Co, 587 Broadway, New York, probably 1866)

‘The Ballet and the Ladies.
‘The New York correspondent of the Mobile Advertiser writes as follows of the ballet:
The Black Crook, as a play, is the silliest trash I ever listened to. Any ordinary school boy could write a better dialogue, and the plot is the same that we have seen in dozens of devil dramas before. But the scenery and transformations are too gorgeous to be described. Nothing approaching them was ever witnessed in New York. And the ballet! Ah! that is the attraction. It is beautiful, ravishing, glorious – and indecent – particularly the latter. I have no time for details, but must mention one dance – the dance – the ”Demon Dance.” this might be called the ”model artist” exhibition. Four beautiful and magnificently formed girls (from Paris [sic]) come on the stage in tights and dance for ten or fifteen minutes. A part of their bodies is encased in red silk jiggers of some sort, but that only makes them the more attractive. I was astonished to see hundreds of fashionable and very respectable looking ladies watching this exhibition with the deepest interest. There was a time when American ladies would leave the theatre at once if such a scene were presented to them. But our ladies visit Paris oftener now than of yore, and begin to like Paris customs very well indeed. A woman who would consider herself greatly insulted if asked how she liked Adah Menken in Mazeppa, will take indefinite delight in looking at the ”Demon Dance.” And yet I am not sure the Menken exhibition is really more indecent than the one I saw at Niblo’s on Saturday night. The Menken was not fashionable; the Parisians are, and perhaps that explains why our belles take their opera glasses to Niblo’s every night.’
(Public Ledger, Memphis Tennessee, Monday, 5 November 1866, p. 1c)

* * * * *

According to the United States Census of 1880, Betty Rigl was born in Austria in October 1850. She arrived in America in 1860, presumably accompanied by her sister, Emily Rigl and together they appeared in 1866 in The Black Crook at Niblo’s under the management of William Whitney (d. 1898). Betty Rigl subsequently married Whitney (apparently in 1874) and she appears to have retired a year or two after fulfilling an engagement during 1875 at the Alhambra, Leicester Square, London, at which time she was described as having been ”’première danseuse” of the Imperial Opera, Vienna’ (The Morning Post, London, Wednesday, 28 April 1875, p. 5e). London critics were impressed: Mdlle. Rigl ‘is perhaps the best artist in her line who has appeared amongst us since Mdlle. Henriette d’Or, whose dancing in Babil and Bijou [Covent Garden, 29 August 1872] cannot well have been forgotten. But the style of Mdlle. Betty Rigl is altogether different from that of Mdlle. D’Or. The one is distinguished for her ”point,” and the other was remarkable for her ”elevation.” These are the two principal arts of ballet dancing. Although the skill of ”elevation” is one rarely attained, and is, of course, the more fascinating to the beholder, it is an open question if a through proficiency in ”point” is not a more valuable gift. Mddle. Betty Rigl has not all that airy and fairylike grace of the great exponents of her art; she does not possess that charming abandon of style which so captivates the beholder. But the ”tip-toe” dancing could scarcely be excelled and the movement of the foot from the ankle downwards is the very perfection of ease and neatness. Well, indeed, did the lady deserve the rounds of applause with which her dancing was greeted. It was hearty enough when she danced with M. Jousset, the celebrated ballet master, but when she executed her steps alone a hearty encore was inevitable.’ (The Era, London, Sunday, 9 May 1875, p. 4d).

At Christmas, 1876, Betty Rigl was seen in a ‘Snow Ballet’ in the pantomime, Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday at the Theatre Royal, Manchester.


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