Les biches (French:
[le biʃ], The Hinds or The Little Darlings)
 is a ballet choreographed by
Bronislava Nijinska to music by
Francis Poulenc, premiered by the
Ballets Russes on 6 January 1924. Some consider this piece a milestone in ballet history. The composer, who was at the time relatively unknown, was asked by
Serge Diaghilev to write a piece based on
Les Sylphides, written seventeen years earlier. Poulenc, however, chose to base his work on the paintings of
Watteau that depicted
Louis XV and various women in his "Parc aux biches". The word
biche is usually translated as "doe," an adult female deer. "Does" was used as a slang for coquettish women. Poulenc described his work as a "contemporary drawing room party suffused with an atmosphere of wantonness, which you sense if you are corrupted, but of which an innocent-minded girl would not be conscious."
Diaghilev recognized the great potential of the ballet and produced it for the 1924 Ballet Russes season, bringing Poulenc into the forefront of French music. Les biches was well received by critics and liked by the fashionable audience, with Henri Malherbe of Time calling it "surprisingly intimate."
Jean Cocteau upon approving the work's unplanned grandeur wrote: "The beauty, the melancholy of Les biches results from a lack of artifice." Poulenc continually revised the music up through the 1940s, eventually reducing it to an orchestral suite in five movements.
The ballet, written in a light and frothy style, is in turns reminiscent of
Stravinsky, mirroring the style of
Saint-Saëns's private composition
The Carnival of the Animals. Les biches uses a hidden chorus in addition to the pit orchestra, a device found before in
Daphnis et Chloé. The set and costumes were designed by
Marie Laurencin, giving a sense of upper-class fashion.
The score was reset for
New York City Ballet's Jazz Concert by
Francisco Moncion, the other three dances being
Creation of the World, John Taras'
Ebony Concerto and
Ragtime (I). The NY City Ballet premiere took place on 7 December 1960 at the
City Center of Music and Drama.