By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 27 JUNE 2012 The first thing that comes to ones notice
in Josua Hoffalts dressing-room at the Palais Garnier is a large,
attractive black and white poster drawing of Roland Petit, the grand old
man of French ballet, a choreographer the 27-year-old dancer admires
immensely. "I would love to interpret so many of his works", the recently
nominated étoile told me. "I feel very much at ease with his
repertoire where there are some incredible roles for men, from Frollo and
Quasimodo in Notre Dame de Paris, Don José in Carmen,
the young man in Le Rendez-vous, and of course, the doomed
hero of Le Jeune Homme et la mort, where there is that mixture of
extreme despair followed by explosive movement. I like roles where there
is a development, where the character moves on and where, as with Roland Petit, you can put
something of your own into each situation."
For the last two years as premier danseur, Hoffalt has been dancing
many main roles, from Ashtons Colas in La Fille mal
Gardée, Nureyevs Romeo and the star actor in Cinderella, Frantz
in Coppelia, to Djémil, a role created for him by Jean-Guillaume
Bart in his recent creation, La
Source. Finally, after a performance as Solor in La
Bayadère, and following the proposition of artistic director,
Brigitte Lefèvre, Nicolas Joel, general director, nominated him
étoile on 7 March.
Josua Hoffalt as Solar in La Bayadère
Photo: Anne Deniau
Born and brought up on the outskirts of Marseilles, his grandmother
sent him off to ballet school along with his two cousins when he was 8.
"I didnt like it too much", he said, "but then they wanted to keep me
there as they had so few boys, so they kept flattering me and telling me I
was good." He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "So, of course I stayed
and eventually gave up gymnastics and tennis to concentrate on dance,
entering a few competitions along the way. But it wasnt until I was 13
and saw a documentary on Nicolas Le Riche that I began to take dance
seriously. He fired my imagination; I wanted to become a dancer like him
with that electrifying presence and his amazing qualities both as an actor
and dancer! I wanted to be a danseur étoile too, although I
scarcely understood what it meant at that age."
Consequently he headed for Paris and gained entrance to the Opera
school that same year, joining the company four years later, collecting a
silver medal from Varna before he was 20. A favourite with the public, he
was also awarded the Prix Carpeaux as well as the Prix du Public/Arop soon
So, since he was already dancing principal roles, and his talent was
being recognized, what difference did his nomination to the rank of
étoile really make?
"Well", he replied, this time with an even larger smile, "Its a kids
dream! It brings me enormous personal pleasure. But on a more practical
level, I hope it opens doors to me on an international level. Ive danced
abroad in galas before, and quite honestly, short pas de deux out of
context dont interest me very much as they are so limiting
artistically. I would love, for instance, to be invited to dance
Swan Lake at the "Bolshoi". And also, it should mean that Im no
longer programmed as a 4th or 5th cast, but get to dance certain
premières, as Solor in La Bayadére.
One would think that the role of Solor would have a special place in
his heart, but it is a role he dreamed of dancing mainly for the technical
challenge it held, for its style and big, bravura dancing, and for the
opportunity it gave for him to dance with Aurélie Dupont, a ballerina he
"Twenty or thirty years ago," he commented," I would never have been
considered for the role of Solor. It was reserved for the great, strapping
muscular dancers such as Irek Mukhamedov. I mean, look at me!"
Indeed, Josua Hoffalt is the antithesis of big, beefy and muscular. He
is of medium height, tall, but not too tall, with a slender, elegant frame
and arms of steel, hence his effortless lifts. He is a good-looking,
attractive young man with a boyish, cheeky grin, and a beautiful, heart
touching technique which in combination with his extraordinary grace and
musicality makes his dancing a joy to watch.
"Solors story doesnt carry weight with me", he continued, "I cant
get really involved with it and am greatly bothered by the music,
particularly in the last act. There I am, in the depths of despair, and
then, tumpety tum, ti tum, the score is festive; we are at a
party with this joyful music, and yet this is an act of lamentation. "
"I identify far more with the role of Des Grieux in Manon, a
character who grows and evolves. I dance that with Aurélie Dupont,
which couldnt be better. She has such beautiful movements and depth of
feeling as well as being so perfectly musical."
Aurélie Dupont and Josua Hoffalt in Manon
The words, music and musicality recur frequently in conversation with
Hoffalt to whom music illuminates the movement. It is as essential to him
as breathing, yet when he interpreted Processes of Intricacy, a
work choreographed by Paris Opera dancer, Samuel Murez, last
year, in which he partnered the newly nominated étoile, Ludmila
Pagliero, it was danced in silence. Not really", he explained. "We
listened to sounds, to our breathing, to the sounds our dance shoes made
on the floor."
"Contemporary works are as essential to me as the classics", he
commented, "and at the Paris Opera Ballet we are more than fortunate, for
not only do we get to interpret the classics, but there are frequent
creations which I adore, as well as works brought in from both French and
foreign choreographers. Dancing in Pina Bauschs Rite of Spring
changed my way of looking at dance completely. The complete abandon she
demanded from us as well as the experience of dancing in the earth on
stage was something I shall never forget."
"On a personal level, I need to interpret different styles as there is
a constant exchange. What I learn in traditional ballets is applied to
contemporary and vice versa, and I think Baryshnikov is the outstanding
example of that. He has worked with so many different people over his long
Josua Hoffal in Onegin
MacMillan, Ashton, Mats Ek, John
Cranko, Kylian, Forsythe, Nacho Duato and
Wayne McGregor are all
choreographers whose names cropped up. He said that he found working with
McGregor, who would not be his first choice as a choreographer, an
experience because of the speed of the movements. "It was like an exercise
of mathematics on stage", was his wry comment.
Cherkaoui was a
choreographer he hoped to work with next season, and having seen the
pieces created by the brilliant Anglo-Indian choreographer, Akram Khan, he added that
he hoped he would come to the opera one day.
"Rudolf Nureyev gave so much to this company. He brought us all his
magnificent classics, and paved the way for our contemporary repertoire",
Hoffalt continued. "But now its twenty or more years on and time to make
a break in a certain sense. Today there is a new, young generation of
dancers, with Mathieu Ganio, Mathias Heymann, and Stéphane Bullion and a
different, wide ranging repertoire. Were looking for something else. We
have the wonderful teaching of people like Laurent Hilaire, directly
formed by Nureyev himself, who is transmitting all he learned, and
building alongside that, its now our responsibility to try to bring about
another golden age. I hope we can."
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. She last wrote on the choreographers Jerome Robbins
and Mats Ek