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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 6 DECEMBER 2014 — Pina Bausch was one of the first choreographers to recognize and do something about the special gifts of Alice Renavand, étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet since last December. Bausch  watched her in class, auditioned her, and plucked her out of the corps de ballet in 2004 to interpret the all-important role of Eurydice in her magnificent ballet, Orpheus and Eurydice, a work which entered the repertoire of the Paris Opera Ballet in May 2005.

Alice Renavand in Le Parc
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Holding the rank of coryphée at the time, one of the lowest ranks of the company, Renavand gave a gentle and moving interpretation of the doomed heroine. It is a role which she has since developed into a superb portrayal of the vulnerable young bride who could not understand the strange behavior of her beloved Orpheus whose only possibility of rescuing her from the underworld was to neither look at nor touch her until they had left the world of darkness. In recounting the tale of Orpheus, son of the muse Calliope, who equaled the gods with his gift of music but failed to bring back his new wife from the Underworld, the German choreographer, contrary to Gluck who reunited the grief-stricken lovers in his opera, remained faithful to the tragic ending of classical drama and to the myth, demonstrating that love alone was not enough. She emphasized the intense bond between the lovers by inventing dual roles, where Orpheus, Eurydice and Love are represented by singers as well as dancers.

In the recent restaging of the work at the Palais Garnier, Renavand, compelling, feminine and magnetic, reflected the poetic myth recounted by the soprano Yun jung Choi,  conveying each subtle nuance of the work with her body. With each heart-wrenching movement, she expressed an emotion beyond words. Her initial bewilderment, followed in turn by confusion, doubt, anguish and despair  led to the terrible climax where Orpheus can no longer endure her loss of trust in him, and turns, condemning them both to eternal loss.

Photo: Anne Denier

Alice Renavand, whose father was French, owes her exotic dark beauty and high cheekbones to her Vietnamese mother. Born in Paris, she began dance at 10 years old, gaining a place in the company at the age of 17, in 1997 after 6 years at the Paris Opera School. Always visible in the corps de ballet with her distinct personality, she made a lasting impression with her participation in the programme of Jeunes danseurs in 2003, dancing in La Sieste, a pas de trois taken from Serge Lifar’s Suite en blanc. No one who saw her could possibly forget her softness, grace and musicality, qualities which have not passed unnoticed by the number of important choreographers who have consistently chosen her to interpret their works at the opera despite her low ranking in the corps de ballet.

Beginning with Angelin Preljocaj who cast her in his Le Songe de Médée, also in 2004, the year she gained promotion from quadrille to coryphée, she was subsequently singled out by Nacho Duato, Wayne McGregor, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, William Forsythe, and Jiri Kylian. Indeed, she was sublime as Kaguyahime, the moon princess who comes down to earth and whose stupendous beauty awakens love and desire in all, in the Czech choreographer’s ballet of the same name. Breathtaking she was too as la Mort in Roland Petit’s Jeune Homme et la Mort, a role upon which she has left her indelible stamp.

For Alice Renavand is also very beautiful, off stage as well as on, but when she dances, she seems to light up from within. She possesses a luminosity, a certain charisma which marks her out as a star. It makes it hard to understand as to why she had to wait to the age of 33 for that to be recognized and why early on in her career, she was cast as Juliet’s nurse rather than Juliet, so much does she resemble Shakespeare’s heroine, the pivot of Rudolf Nureyev’s ballet.

Alice Renavand in Le Parc
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Perhaps the reason for the delay lay in the pre-conceived idea that she was essentially a contemporary dancer, an interpreter of neo-classical ballets rather than the purely classical. It wasn’t until the nomination of Marie-Agnès Gillot in 2004, after a performance of Carolyn Carlson’s Signes, that a dancer was nominated étoile after a contemporary work. Alice Renavand, however, was promoted prémière danseuse after a stupendous interpretation of a variation of Kitri from Nureyev’s Don Quixote. She gave such a sensational demonstration of her prowess that simply could not be ignored!

Balanchine, Bausch, Lifar, MacMillan, Nureyev, or Nureyev after Petipa, few are the choreographers who hold secrets for this exquisite ballerina who combines elegance and class allied to a lovely technique and an inborn sense of artistry.

.Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.


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