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Charles Jude, A Local Hero

BORDEAUX, FRANCE, 13 June 1998 - Born in Vietnam, Charles Jude, danseur étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet came to France in 1967 with his French father, a judge, and his Vietnamese mother. They settled in Eze, near Nice, where Charles then sixteen, enjoyed all the advantages of being the only boy dancer among the girls at the Nice Conservatoire, in a class run by Alexandre Kalioujny, one of Rudolf Nureyev's closest friends. It was only a matter of weeks before he met Rudolf Nureyev who was to become his "father, brother, dearest friend and Maitre".

"I'm able to pass on everything I know about dance to others today because I was fortunate enough to learn from the greatest dancer of the century", Jude, who was appointed artistic director of the Ballet of Bordeaux eighteen months ago told me recently. "Rudolf Nureyev not only taught me how to dance and interpret my roles, explaining how to walk on stage and leave the stage, which are details of supreme importance, but also how to run a company. Each time we went on tour together, I had to organise everything. He was forever telling me to think about the future", said the dancer.

"As far back as I remember he would urge me to think about what I would do with my own company and of the importance of giving them 'plenty to eat' all the time, all the time. He told me that it was the only way a company could live, and that's just what I'm doing in Bordeaux."

Charles Jude

It seems to have been forgotten that Bordeaux, a city more renowned for its wines than its dance troupe was once traditionally famous for the Opéra.

Designed by the architect Victor Louis in 1774, the Grand-Theatre of Bordeaux is one of the most enchanting in Europe. A wide sweeping staircase leads to a magnificent foyer while the auditorium, redecorated in red and gold to suit the taste of the 19th century has recently been restored to the original blue, white and gold.

"The theatre is not only extremely beautiful, it is steeped in history" Jude continued, "for Marius Petipa was principal dancer here before leaving for Russia, and Serge Lifar came regularly. La Fille mal gardée, the oldest and one of the best-loved of classical ballets was created here in 1789, and so I've planned the programmes to make people aware of their past."

"I'm not a choreographer and I intend giving the company back the repertoire it has lost over the years", Jude said after the triumphant reception of his first full-length contemporary dance programme: «Troy Game»(North), Brothers and The Envelope (Parsons),Before Nightfall(Christe), and Trois préludes(Stevenson), where the pianist was the director's sister, the delightful Marie-Josèphe Jude.

Apart from a tribute to Serge Lifar - choreograph and dancer, Jude has restaged Giselle and programmed les Quatre Saisons by Paolo Bortoluzzi- a former director, and a tribute to Petipa including the pas de deux from «Raymonda» in which he danced himself, partnered by Elisabeth Platel.

This season opened with La Fille mal gardée, followed by Jude's own version of The Nutcracker, and will close with a Serge Diaghilev programme.

"Charles is giving the company a solid repertory", Francis Malovik, now ballet master in Bordeaux told me."My career as a dancer at the Paris Opéra was ending, and I was very happy when he invited me to join him. We both learned so much from Nureyev; we now intend to give it in our turn to the dancers here."

"I soaked up all I possibly could in Paris - how Nureyev made the classical ballets come alive, yet programmed works of the twentieth century and creations which enabled the dancers to see the classics in a different way. Charles Jude is doing the same and the dancers are following him enthusiastically. They have made enormous progress this last year. They will do anything for him, not simply because he is a magnificent dancer and sets them an example, but also because he is a wonderful person".

Jude makes no secret of the fact that he chose to come to Bordeaux when Thierry Fouquet, who had worked with Nureyev during his directorship of the Paris Opéra, was appointed general director.(Might his fondness for red wine have had some say in the matter too?).

"I was previously offered posts in Vienna and Rome", Jude said,"but it was too early. I still had my own career to think of.Also, I wanted to work with Thierry Fouquet whom I've known for twenty-three years. He knows the cost of a production and I don't have to argue for what I want."

The quietly-spoken Jude spoke of his good fortune to have an elastic budget. "I give my programme and Fouquet works out a budget accordingly. If there isn't enough money, we talk it over and he arranges things, sometimes by cancelling a concert here or changing an invitation there."

"I only had two conditions before I took up the post; I insisted that the ballet company danced in the Opéra House, the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux, and not a small annexe, and I demanded an orchestra, which they had not had before.I subsequently requested more dancers, so now I have 37, but by the year 2000 I hope to have 45 which will increase the possibilities of inviting choreographers to create works for us. I want Kylian to come, Forsythe, and Mats Ek. I want lesser known choreographers too, so the public and my dancers get to see everything. There's an evening of young choreographers planned for next season, and Carolyn Carlson is already creating something for us which is extremely important".

Jude has been a respected teacher for several years now, not only in Bordeaux, but at the Conservatoire of Paris (until 1996), with Marika Besobrasova in Monaco, and with the Association Française des Maitres de Danse Classique. Together with his wife Florence Clerc who teaches at the Paris Opéra, he is only too pleased to give advice to any young dancer who asks.

Future projects for the company also involve taking them on tour to Fréjus,(France) where there are plans for a festival, and to Japan in July 1998(July 20th). A three-month tour to the U.S. next season will be followed by performances in Italy.

"Dance has still a long way to go to equal Opéra and music", said Jude, "but little by little... we'll do it one day".

Judging from the rapturous reception the company now gets after each performance from a normally sedate, well-brought-up provincial audience, that day might be quite close.

"Dance was never like this before", sighed the woman next to me after the programme of the Twentieth Century Choreographers. As the capacity crowd spilled out of the theatre, their faces beaming with happiness she told me that before Jude, their local hero, "Dance wasn't up to much. People had stopped coming to see the troupe. Now", she added, "I bring all my friends and there's never an empty seat. We have a wonderful time".

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