By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 2 NOVEMBER 2009 The season opened at the Paris Opera
Ballet with the 1998 version of Giselle by Eugène Polyakov and
Patrice Bart, a huge success then as it was at its creation in Paris in
1841. Bart and Polyakov, who had adapted the original choreography of Jean
Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa seven years before, restaged it
with the ravishing costumes and scenery designed in 1924 by Alexandre
Benois, painter for the Ballets Russes.
The ballet tells the story of how Giselle, a pretty young village girl,
falls in love with Albrecht, a young nobleman who has been courting her
disguised as a peasant. Dreaming of marriage, Giselle suffers the horrible
shock of discovering that Albrecht is already betrothed to another. His
deception, adding to the fact that she suffers from a weak heart, costs
her her life. In the second act, which takes place in the Kingdom of the
Wilis, the ghosts of young girls who died of a broken heart before their
wedding, Albrecht, condemned to dance to his death, is saved by the love
Mathias Heymann in Giselle
The work, up until recently reserved for the most senior
étoiles, is one of the jewels of the repertoire of the French
company. The departure of Manuel Legris earlier this year saw the end of
the reign of Rudolf Nureyevs great stars, giving place to a new
generation of exciting young dancers who have been taking on the central
roles. In October, Mathias Heymann, nominated étoile in April at
the age of 21, gave his second performance as Albrecht, partnering the
vivacious Dorothée Gilbert, herself nominated étoile two years
previously at the age of 24.
These two youngsters looked the part, being the age for their roles,
and convinced the moment they arrived on stage. They were both technically
brilliant. Presuming him to be a peasant like herself, Gilbert, at first
demure, is besotted with Heymann, a sheltered aristocratic boy
encountering real love for the first time, and neither can think of
anything but each other. Their dancing was natural, spontaneous and
moving, while at the end of act 2, Heymanns dancing touched on the
technically incredible. He danced as possessed, inhabiting his role, and
endangering his own life in a desperate attempt to be with
Giselle is very special to me", the new étoile told me after
rehearsals at the Palais Garnier for Balanchines Rubies.
Speaking in excellent, attractively accented English, he explained that it
was after he had seen the video of Baryshnikov with Noella Pontois, filmed
when the former came to dance Albrecht at the Palais Garnier in 1978, that
he knew he wanted to become a dancer.
Mathias Heymann in Giselle
Photo: Julien Benhamo
"I remember my feelings on first seeing the ballet and I want to
recreate the same emotion with my dancing. Many interpretations are
possible, and I wanted the one which suited me best. I gave a lot of
thought to all the details in it, wondering how it must feel, for example,
if someone burst in on me while I was kissing my girlfriend, as Hilarion
did in Act 1. I wanted everything to be real. I was head over heels in
love with Dorothée. I didnt know how to flirt, and being so carried away,
I never gave a thought to the consequences of my actions. I was sick of my
life and my arranged marriage to the Prince of Courlandes daughter, an
older woman I didnt even like, and then I met this absolutely ravishing
young girl and could think of nothing else."
"I let myself be swept along by the beauty of the music", Heymann
continued. "And, as far as was possible, I didnt give a thought to the
choreography, concentrating on what Albrecht was feeling in the situation
he found himself in; Id never felt anything like that before." But
afterwards," he said, "it took me one or two days to find some joy again,
to rid myself from the dreadful sense of loss, even though love triumphs
and my life became meaningful for having loved Giselle. After all, I
was responsible for that lovely girls death; I deceived her and it was my
fault, not Hilarions. I didnt know she was ill, and was overcome
with guilt when I was caught out."
Mathias Heymann was born in Marseilles on October 1st, 1987, but he did
not have a typically French childhood, for shortly after his birth, his
father, a maths teacher, accepted a teaching post in Africa. However, his
Moroccan-born mother, from whom he inherited his dark good looks, was an
oriental dancer and he started dance because she was giving lessons and he
adored dancing with her. From a very early age, Mathias danced to
African rhythms, music he still adores, and a fact which goes towards
explaining his extraordinary musicality.
"My parents worried because I danced all the time", he recalled, "they
thought I was overdoing it, but theres so much life in African music."
But a shock came when he returned to France for his schooling, alleviated
only by his dance classes in Marseilles with Veronique Sottile, a former
dancer with the Ballet of Geneva and with Roland Petit whose teaching he
Mathias Heymann as Lensky in
Photo: Sebasten Mathé
"She took me to dance competitions, and it was after I was awarded a
scholarship at the American Youth Grand Prix, which enabled me to take a
course in Miami, that I gained entrance to the Paris Opera Ballet School
when I was 14."
From then on, everything proved excessively easy for the gifted boy
whose dance is characterised by high, light, effortless jumps allied with
precise, impeccable schooling. At the age of 16, he interpreted Daphnis in
the schools production of Daphnis and Chloe, entering the
company as quadrille shortly before his seventeenth birthday. And
then, as promotion inside the company is by means of a yearly competition
in which dancers compete for vacancies in the higher ranks, he won his
place as coryphée at 18, at 19 he was awarded a position as subject, while
at 20 he gained a post of premier dancer, collecting both the A.R.O.P.
prize and the Carpeaux prize along the way. Excellent performances as
Basilio in Don Quixotte, Colas in La Fille mal Gardée,
and as Lucien dHervilly in Paquita, as well as a superb
performance in McGregors Genus, paved the way for his popular
nomination to the post of étoile after the première of
Onegin last April, when he interpreted the poet, Lenski. He was
just 21 years old, the same age as Rudolf Nureyev when he first danced
Albrecht on the stage of the Maryinsky Theatre with Kolpakova.
Heymann looks at me in consternation when I mention Nureyev. "I dont
come up to his heel", he exclaimed. "I never saw him dance, never met him,
but I have seen all his videos, many times, and he is my role model as are
Vassiliev and Baryshnikov.
"They are the three most outstanding dancers of all. They were truly
exceptional artists and great examples to dancers today, and all three of
them are my references even though I have only seen them on video.
However, I did see a performance of The Dying Swan at Covent
Garden, where the interpretation by Uliana Lopatkina has marked me for
"Here at the opera I have always loved Elisabeth
Maurin and Manuel Legris has always been there with help and
encouragement, particularly during the injuries I sustained over the
period when I was dancing so much, yet still growing physically. I also
owe much to Laurent Hilaire who worked with me for "Giselle".
"But when I dance", he says", "I want to be myself. Im happy dancing
and each dancer has something different to give. Its the most incredible
metier and what I always wanted to do. Now, many things become open to me
as an étoile. Im going where I have to go, with no fixed direction except
that Im very excited at the thought of dancing Balanchines
Rubies, Fokines Spectre de la Rose, and with
prospects of dancing the main roles in Nureyevs Nutcracker
at Christmas and his version of Bayadère next May."
So what does he do when hes not dancing? "I go to the Crazy Horse!" he
laughed." Im a great fan of the founder, Alain Bernardin, who was nuts
about women and modern art. I love all the girls there, and I think Dita von Teese is
just fantastic!!! I even love the "Horse guards" number, and when you look
closely(?), the girls are all different, and it is such a wonderful and
aesthetic way of presenting womens bodies, all of which are as perfect as
they can be. Its a great place to go."
Well, with 15 shows per week, and a changing rota of girls, including
the infamous Dita von Teese, we obviously didnt see the same performance,
nor, perhaps, drink the same amount of champagne
Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for
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Philippe Decouflé at the "Crazy Horse"