John L. Sullivan, Helmut Newton & Sandrine Cassini

Sandrine Cassini — Photographs Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

It is through Jack O’Brien, the Arbiter Elegantiarum Philadelphiae, that I trace my rapport with the historic past through the laying-on of hands. He hit me, for pedagogical example, and he had been hit by the great Bob Fitzsimmons, from whom he won the light-heavyweight title in 1906. Jack had a scar to show for it. Fitzsimmons had been hit by Corbett, Corbett by John L. Sullivan, he by Paddy Ryan, with the bare knuckles, and Ryan by Joe Goss, his predecessor, who as a young man had felt the fist of the great Jem Mace. It is a great thrill to feel that all that separates you from the early Victorian is a series of punches on the nose. I wonder if Professor Toynbee is as intimately attuned to his sources. The Sweet Science is joined onto the past like a man’s arm to his shoulder.

A.J. Liebling, The Sweet Source.

It was in 2002 that while watching a rehearsal of Ballet BC I spotted a ballerina who walked like none of the others. She moved with a super-human grace and with a particularly attractive slowness. I went up to her and asked her who she was. “I am Sandrine Cassini,” she answered with a lovely Parisian accent. I asked more questions. She had danced for the Ballet de l’Opera. It was in the middle of the 80s that I had gone to Paris with my wife and daughters and photographed the exterior of the old Paris Opera Ballet (see, below) after admiring the wondrous interiors. At the time my total ignorance on all things related to ballet prevented me from making a connection with the 1880s and how Degas haunted the place with his sketch pad. It was here where he discovered Marie van Goethem and she posed for him for that seminal ballet sculpture, Little Dancer Age 14. And of course, the tradition of Ballet de l’Opera went back to the enthusiasm and pioneering participation of Louis XIV.

Paris Opera — Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

I asked Cassini about her relation to the Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini and his grandson (also an astronomer) Jean Dominique Cassini. It was the elder Cassini who discovered the dark separation between some rings on Saturn which is called the Cassini Division. And the Cassini-Huygens is the famous NASA spacecraft that is still sending our world magical images of our planetary systems as it hurtles eventually to the outer reaches of our system and into deep space. Indeed, she confirmed that they were her ancestors.I asked Cassini where else she had danced. She told me she had been a member of Les Ballet de Monte-Carlo. Without thinking any further I asked her, “Did he photograph you while you were there?” Cassini, while slow and graceful in dance, quickly replied, “Yes he did.” And of course we both knew without having to ask any further that “he” was Helmut Newton.Cassini came to my studio in August of 2003 and posed as if she were an adult Marie von Goethem. A. J. Liebling would not only have understood, he would have been as thrilled as I was.

I have written about Sandrine Cassini here many times, and I have also mentioned her ancestors, the two astronomers of the same name and of her more than ancillary connection to the traditions of the Paris Opera Ballet and Marie van Goethem. But when I read that passage by Liebling on boxers some days ago, I found just the excuse to put yet one more picture of the lovely Sandrine Cassini here!

Link to: John L. Sullivan, Helmut Newton & Sandrine Cassini

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