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Yann Bridard Outshines Lackluster Paris Opéra Ballet

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 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.

"Nureyev 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.

"Nureyev 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.


Yann Bridard as Quasimodo
Yann Bridard as Quasimodo in Notre Dame de Paris
Choreography: Roland Petit / Photo: Paris Opéra Ballet

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".

As 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.

Finally, 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.

Yann Bridard in Le Sacre du printemps
Yann Bridard in The Rite of Spring
Choreography: Pina Bausch / Photo: Paris Opéra Ballet

In 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.

"I 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."

Yann 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".

Yann Bridard in Raymonda
Yann Bridard as Abderam in Raymonda
Choreography: Nureyev / Photo: Paris Opéra Ballet

He's 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 ."

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.



*Charles Jude artistic director of the Ballet of Bordeaux, étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet 1977- 1996 was virtually Rudolf Nureyev's adopted son


**Patrick Dupond was artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet in name but not presence from approximately 1990-1995.

***Shadowplay - The Life of Antony Tudor by Donna Perlmutter




Patricia 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 for Culturekiosque.com.

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