COMPOSER – Francis Poulenc

DIRECTOR, CREATOR, WRITER – Grethe Barrett Holby


COSTUME DESIGNER – Carolyn Hoffman-Schneider

SET & PROPERTIES DESIGNER – Kathryn Veilette Neuhart


SCENIC ARTIST – Stephanie Kerley Schwartz

MUSIC DIRECTOR – Mikhail Hallak


LENGTH – 90 minutes

MUSIC – Piano 



TARGET AUDIENCE – For ages 6 and up

Performed in both English & French.
Co-presented with the French Institute Alliance Française, New York City (FI:AF).


  • Francis Poulenc, Pianist
  • Singer, Narrator
  • Sophie & Celeste
  • Big Babar; Baby Babar
  • Little Old Lady
  • Cornelius
  • Babar's Mother
  • Maid
  • Old King
  • Giraffe
  • Arthur
  • Monkey


The timeless tale of Babar comes to life through a whimsical performance incorporating French songs, music, and imaginative story-telling! 

In 1940, a little girl plopped her favorite book in front of the brilliant French composer Francis Poulenc and commanded “Play this!” Five years later, Poulenc published L’Histoire de Babar: le petit éléphant, a work for piano and narrator.

Inspired by this story, the musical performance that begins with “Uncle” Francis composing the score with his niece. As they begin, the niece turns into Babar’s cousin and future wife, Celeste, and so the beloved tale of the little elephant Babar comes to life. Babar is a charming musical performance for all ages directed by Grethe Barrett Holby and choreographed by award-winning dancer Jane Comfort!


GRETHE BARRETT HOLBY (Director, Creator, Writer)

Credited with “propelling opera into the 21st century” (NPR), Holby has directed, choreographed, performed, and collaborated on world premieres with Leonard Bernstein, Lou Reed, Kitty Brazelton, Eve Beglarian, and Philip Glass, at venues as divergent as La Scala, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center Festival, and The Kitchen. Founder of American Opera Projects, & Ardea Arts/Family Opera Initiative, she has directed productions for opera companies across the USA.




JANE COMFORT (Choreographer)

A choreographer, writer, and director known for issue-oriented works integrating text and movement, Comfort has created over 50 dance/theater works since 1978, most of them feature-length, that have been presented throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Recent works include Beauty, a dance-theater work about the cultural pressures surrounding women’s physique, attire, and appearance; An American Rendition, voted a Best of 2008 Performance by WNET Sunday Arts and Gay City News; Fleeting Thoughts, commissioned and produced by Danspace Project, with live music by Joan La Barbara; as well as commissioned new works for Ballet Memphis, Jeanne Ruddy Dance, Headwaters Dance, Rhode Island College and G2 Dance in Brazil.


Jean de Brunhoff.jpg

JEAN DE BRUNHOFF (Original Story & Libretto)

De Brunhoff (1899–1937) was a French writer and illustrator who created the Babar books. The Babar books began as a bedtime story that his wife Cécile invented for their children, whilst trying to comfort their sick son Mathieu. The boys liked the story of the little elephant who left the jungle for a city resembling Paris so much that they took it to their father and asked him to illustrate it. He turned it into a picture book with text, which was published by a family-run publishing house. After de Brunhoff's death due to tuberculosis, his brother Michel, who was the editor of French Vogue, oversaw the publication in book form of his two last books, and his eldest son Laurent, himself an illustrator, trained himself to draw in his father‘s style and carry on his legacy with the continuation of the Babar series.




Poulenc (1899–1963) was a French composer and pianist who was heralded as being one of the major bridges between the Romantic and Contemporary periods of classical music, composing in a relatively traditional style that nevertheless appealed to the wider audience of his time. Largely self-educated musically, he studied with the pianist Ricardo Viñes, and soon came under the influence of Erik Satie. During the summer of 1940, while Poulenc was staying with relatives, the children of the house put Babar on his piano and asked him to "play" the story. Poulenc obliged and freely improvised around the narrative situations that were proposed to him. In the following years, he often recalled this incident, and L'Histoire de Babar was born from his memories.