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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 7 SEPTEMBER 2008 — As Kader Belarbi, the last of Rudolf Nureyev's great étoiles takes his final bow, a new generation of dancers is emerging, all of whom are little known outside the company. One of the most promising, Hervé Moreau, was nominated étoile after a performance of La Bayadère in 2006, when, at the age of 28, he danced the role of Solor for the first time. I spoke to him during a break in rehearsals for John Neumeier's La Dame aux camélias , when he was partnering Agnès Letestu prior to appearing with her in the filmed version of the ballet.

If in an abstract work by Forsythe or Balanchine one of Moreau's greatest qualities has proved to be his ability to merge into the background, people who saw his sensitive and credible interpretation of Siegfried in Nureyev's Swan Lake back in 2002 began to follow his career seriously. They ran to see his impassioned performance as the young man in Serge Lifar's Mirages and queued to see him in early performances of La Dame aux camélias because he is different. Romantic, poetic, and refined, Moreau has that rare gift of becoming the character he is portraying. You believe in him and enter completely into the story unfolding on stage.

"I have always had a great respect for the choreography of John Neumeier since I first danced in his Midsummer Night's Dream shortly after I joined the company", the dancer told me, "but it wasn't until I was cast as Aminta, the ill-fated hero of Sylvia, that I got to know the man personally. And then when I heard that La Dame aux camélias was being programmed at the Palais Garnier, I immediately re-read the book through several times to absorb all the small details of Armand's character and to understand his reactions to events. I identified completely with him. I watched all the videos of existing works and soon realized that Neumeier's version was not so easy as all that. The lifts are quite acrobatic and the large crinolines made them a little perilous; it's a ballet in which you really have to know your partner well."

Agnès Letestu and Hervé Moreau in
La Dame aux camélias
Choreography: John Neumeier
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

Tall and romantic-looking with light brown floppy hair, it is easy to picture Moreau as the ardent young man who hopes to save the doomed heroine. He cannot praise his partner, Agnès Letestu, more highly; "She is completely Marguerite", he said. "So much so that for the moment I find it inconceivable to ever dance the ballet with anyone else. We truly live the story together. There is a complete fusion between us on stage; something magical happens. I feel what she feels and it seems so easy and natural to communicate that to an audience."

However, it was not to be, and those who saw the 2006 performances of Moreau and Letestu can count themselves lucky, for on the night of the première, the dancer, now 30, hurtled offstage and collided with a projector causing a knee injury and putting an end to his dreams of the film. But there will be more ballets and other films for this unique dancer who began dance quite by chance at the age of six.

"Although I was born in Paris, I grew up in Bordeaux, and it was after being taken to a show for children that I wanted to learn to dance and act as they did. My two brothers were keen on tennis and judo which didn't appeal, but I was happy with my dance lessons and might have continued with it as just a hobby excepting that my parents took me to see Béjart's Ballet of the 20th Century. Jorge Donn dancing Boléro was a revelation, and he has been a point of reference for me ever since. Until then, I hadn't realized that I could dance for a living, and so at the age of 11, I auditioned for the Paris Opéra school, entering the company when I was 17."

Slow to distinguish himself, Moreau spoke degradingly of the yearly competition in which dancers gain promotion, and which Rudolf Nureyev tried so hard to dismantle.

"I have the most dreadful memories of finding myself before a panel of judges and having to show them how well I could do a pirouette", he recalled. "I was always very bad because it's an examination which gives a very small place to artistic interpretation, and it wasn't until I danced Swan Lake while still in the corps de ballet (he held the rank of Sujet at the time) that I was given the chance to express what I wanted."

However, it was not only in the role of Seigfried that Hervé Moreau drew attention to himself. As Romeo in Sasha Waltz' version of Romeo and Juliet set to the Berlioz score, and programmed last year, Moreau was outstanding. He drew emotion and feeling out of what could otherwise have been little short of a catastrophe with a lesser dancer. If his technique is both elegant and impeccable, in keeping with most of the higher ranking male dancers of the French company, Hervé Moreau adds depth to his roles by the intensity of his dramatic gifts.

Hervé Moreau

Photo: ICARE

Gentle and softly spoken he was at risk of being type-cast in the role of a prince, which he most definitely is, but there is no trace of arrogance in him. His princes are human beings rather than figures from a fairy tale which is one of the reasons he venerates Nureyev's versions of the classics because the Russian star gave a meaning to and revolutionized the great traditional ballets. Indeed, one of his greatest regrets is that he joined the company in 1995, too late to know and work with Rudolf Nureyev.

"I dislike other versions of the classics intensely because they seem so empty after Nureyev's, with, perhaps the exception of John Neumeier's Swan Lake. I'd love to dance that one day, as I would MacMillan's Manon. I have to be motivated and share my emotions with the public."

Next season will see him fulfilling at least one of his dreams, that of dancing Boléro in February in a programme dedicated to Lifar, Petit, and Béjart. Although he is a very different dancer than Jorge Donn, Moreau assured me that there were several ways of interpreting Boléro, and he would find the right one. He added that it was something that he just had to do; but for that particular ballet he would not be where he is today. He also acknowledged that it was an enormous challenge, for to this day no dancer, from Nicolas Le Riche to Maia Plisetskaya has ever equaled the charismatic, magnificent Donn. Rendez-vous in six months!

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. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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