By Patricia Boccadoro
17 December 2001 - Nearly
twenty years have passed since Rudolf Nureyev was appointed director
of the Paris Opéra Ballet and revitalized the company by making
exciting and imaginative choices in the repertory, inviting new
choreographers to create works for the troupe as well as bringing in
his own productions. Above all, he inspired and educated a new
generation of superbly talented dancers whose hearts and souls were
never eclipsed by technique.
Now however, most of the women
including Monique Loudiéres, Elisabeth Platel, and Isabelle Guèrin,
though still at their peak, have been forced into early retirement
through nonsensical regulations, while the male étoiles, with
the exception of José Martinez and Nicolas Le Riche, the latter
more often than not dancing at Covent Garden, are now pushing forty
and dancing less.
changed our whole approach to dance", Brigitte Lefèvre
told me several years ago. "When I became director of the Opéra
I had only one idea in mind: to continue and build upon the project he
had begun." But despite her fine words and praiseworthy
intentions, Lefèvre has a heavy administrative burden to carry,
and had to fight against a negative policy installed by previous
director Patrick Dupond**, who did nothing to help anyone. Today,
there is no one with the passion and force to inspire new members of
the company, who are beginning to look like a collection of very well
trained young people who dance rather than a company of committed
artists. Among the exceptions is premier danseur Yann Bridard, who
joined the company in 1988 and was slightly luckier than most as he
worked with the Russian dancer for two years.
had his eye on everyone, and he'd be there behind me, correcting and
telling me what to do", he told me." I'd watch him in class,
and he'd come to suggest I try certain steps in a specific way. His
advice and presence was irreplaceable.".
In 1992, the
same year that Bridard carried off the silver medal at the prestigious
dance competition of Varna*, Rudolf Nureyev asked him to dance Romeo
in his own production at the opera, but his illness worsened and it
was not to be. It is only this last year, after having accumulated
several other awards including the A.R.O.P. prize for the best young
dancer at the Opéra in 1993, and the Carpeaux award in 1996
that Yann Bridard seems to be coming into his own.
For some time
now, he has been more and more apparent in the company's productions,
bringing his own particular stamp of originality and sparkle to each
role he dances. Seemingly born to dance the works of Kenneth MacMillan,
a man he greatly respects, his interpretation of Lescaut , the heroine's
good-for- nothing brother in the British choreographer's Manon,
was brilliant. He added just the merest touch of humour to the brothel
scene, sending shivers down one's spine. "The ballet", he
commented, "was so logical, and so perfectly constructed that it
was a joy to dance".
Bridard as Quasimodo in Notre Dame de Paris
Roland Petit / Photo: Paris Opéra Ballet
Bottom in Neumeier's Midsummer Night's Dream, he was
unforgettable, marking a role I'd never fully appreciated before with
his own indelible imprint. Extremely Shakespearean, funny, crude and
coarse, yet neither crude nor coarse but moving, few would have blamed
Titania had she spurned her noble lover and stayed with her four-legged
friend. Indeed, the instant he hoofed on stage all eyes were on him,
dance-lovers thirsty to see something different, the 'one-off'
interpretation so rare these days.
in the recent reprogramming of Roland Petit's Notre-Dame de Paris,
Bridard was outstanding as the hunchback Quasimodo. In love with the
beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, whose innocence he knows and whose life he
tries to save, Bridard's interpretation went straight to your heart.
Pathetic yet poetic, he bared his soul, growing in stature as he
strangles the evil Frollo who had raised him from babyhood, and who had
made him the bell-ringer of the cathedral. The moment he slowly carries
off the inert body of the woman he loved was one of supreme artistry.
the course of conversation, Yann Bridard, a lithe, dark-haired,
attractive young man, told me that from a very early age, all he had
wanted to do was dance.
Bridard in The Rite of Spring
Choreography: Pina Bausch /
Photo: Paris Opéra Ballet
was born near Nancy in the East of France, and when I was small, my
parents pushed my sister and I to try a little of everything, so music,
athletics and dance were part of my upbringing. My father came along
too, but whereas he remained in teaching ", he added with a ready
smile, my sister became a musician, and I became a dancer. I still
remember the enormous pleasure I felt when I arrived in Paris although I
was only ten and knew nobody here. If I left my family, it was because
dance meant so much to me."
Bridard doesn't just dance at the Opéra but experiments with
movements at home. He's also been attending courses on Chinese exercises
to see if it helps in his search for simplicity and humility in his life
and art. "I just want to give as much as I can to every role and
get as close as possible to the truth. My first preoccupation is to give
a heart and a soul to whatever part I'm offered. I live very much in the
present and consider whatever I'm asked to dance as a gift, although I
wouldn't refuse Ivan the Terrible", he added , his eyes alert and
vibrant with life. "The flame burning in every dancer must never
die down, but grow brighter".
now working on all his roles with corps de ballet member Fabien Roques
and Florence Clerc, (étoile 1977) for whom dance is a passion. "Yann
is a true artist," Florence Clerc said. "People come to see
him dance because they know it will be something different . His extreme
sincerity is particularly touching , and he has a special way of
communicating with the audience; his face lights up. Moreover, he has
the physique as well as the talent to interpret many roles in the
repertoire from Abderam in Raymonda
(choreography Nureyev), to the Chosen One in "The Rite of
Spring" (choreography Pina Bausch). He's a dancer
Charles Jude would
like to invite to Bordeaux ."
Bridard as Abderam in Raymonda
Choreography: Nureyev /
Photo: Paris Opéra Ballet
In Donna Perlmutter's
biography of Antony Tudor***, the choreographer complains bitterly about
"the splendid crop of technicians" in front of him. Although
they were stronger and more physically perfect than their predecessors,
he considered that they also suffered from a "certain vapidity",
and that he had to "scavenge" for his prime recruits to
discover dancers with intelligence and sensitivity. Even Baryshnikov has
complained of the fact that many dancers have not acquired the cultural
baggage that goes into making interesting artists.
At a crucial
time in their history, when many of the younger generation at the Paris
Opéra seem to be missing that elusive sense of artistry, Yann
Bridard is a shining example, for he belongs to that rare category of
dancer who illuminates the stage, and whose technique is at the service
of his art.
Jude artistic director of the Ballet of Bordeaux, étoile of
the Paris Opéra Ballet 1977- 1996 was virtually Rudolf Nureyev's
**Patrick Dupond was artistic director of the
Paris Opéra Ballet in name but not presence from approximately
***Shadowplay - The Life of Antony Tudor by
Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian,
The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC
Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor