Suzanne Vailland Douvillier is thought to have been the first female choreographer in North America. Little is known of her childhood, except that she was born in Paris.
By 1790, she was in Santo Domingo, French West Indies, where she formed a personal and professional alliance with Alexandre Placide, a theatrical figure. She came to the United States with Placide in 1791.
In January 1792, she danced in The Bird Catcher in New York City. This is believed to be the first ballet piece presented in the United States. She and Placide took their ballet shows to other cities, eventually settling in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1794. There she appeared in several ballets, including her own Echo and Narcissus in 1796.
While living in Charleston Placide made headlines by engaging in a duel with Louis Douvillier, a dancer who had recently joined the company. Suzanne’s affections were at stake in the duel, which received full newspaper coverage and was witnessed by “half of Charleston.” As a result of the duel, Douvillier married the 17-year-old Suzanne.
They formed their own ballet company and performed in many venues before finally settling in New Orleans, where Suzanne died at the age of 48.
Suzanne Douvillier was also probably the first woman to design and paint stage scenery in the Americas.