went at five years old, quite decided I wanted to be a dancer, but they
sent me away, telling me that the men had to carry the girls and I was
much too tiny ! But after lessons with Max Bozzoni, one of the most
renowned teachers in France (étoile of the Paris Opéra
1947), I went to the Opéra school instead."
the company in record time, having zipped through his classes, the young
dancer began attracting attention when he won the silver medal in the
International Competition of Paris, classical section, at barely
sixteen, together with an invitation from Vinogradov to dance La
Sylphide at the Kirov in Saint Petersburg. He was subsequently
chosen to represent France in the Eurovision Dance Competition in
Helsinki, where he impressed Jorma Uotinen, President of the jury, as
well as countless spectators, including myself.
It was after
watching him win, with his high, effortless jumps, and soft, graceful
landings that I realised that he was potentially one of the most gifted
artists of his generation, a realisation confirmed when he carried off a
silver medal at Varna two years later, dancing Presto, a solo
created for him by Uotinen, to music by Sibelius. No gold medals were
awarded that year, possibly because of financial reasons, Mr Andre
Philippe Hersin, founder of " Saisons de la Danse " told me,
for if anyone deserved one, he did.
So, apart from an
impeccable technique, just what makes Emmanuel Thibault different from
the other dancers of his age? A warm, spontaneous smile, intense brown
eyes, and a natural humility coupled with a charisma that must knock the
socks off most women journalists. Not least, where other dancers jump,
Thibault soars and hovers, touching ground with the lightness of a
On stage, your eyes are drawn to his lithe, supple
body for he possesses that strange magic of movement which makes an
audience draw towards him even when he's not centre stage.
Varna, Thibault was rapidly promoted and is frequently given small but
interesting roles, but he is still " sujet ", not yet out of
the corps de ballet, not quite soloist, and he must wait until there is
a post of " premier danseur " available, following the result
of the annual competition at the Opéra.
One of his
favourite roles is that of the Faun in Jerome Robbins' Four Seasons,(
created in 1979), restaged for the French company in 1996. " I was
very lucky in that Robbins seemed to like me immediately. He knew who I
was because he'd seen me in a competition ", Thibault explained, "
and had come to congratulate me, and to say that he hoped I'd dance his
I was rehearsing as a replacement for the Faun in Four Seasons,
when Jean-Pierre Frolich, the American choreographer's assistant told me
Robbins absolutely wanted me to dance. I remember feeling so happy that
I didn't sleep all night. It was not only because it was a wonderful
role, which I interpreted almost as a character out of a Tex Avery
cartoon, but because he trusted in me. When I met him in the theatre on
the evening I didn't dance he exclaimed, "What ! It isn't you
tonight." His disappointment was the highest compliment I've ever
been paid, and maybe the turning-point in my career, for he gave me the
confidence I'd been lacking.
" I was very fortunate to
work with Robbins, for it's something that's marked me for life. He was
an exceptionally generous person for whom I had the greatest admiration.
He knew exactly what he wanted, and how to go about getting it ". "
I'm never happier than when I'm dancing Robbins or Balanchine ", he
continued, " even when you're not a soloist, you really dance in
works like Capriccio and Allegro Brilliante.
Emmanuel Thibault is dancing more and more solo roles. Recent successes
include the pas de deux in act 1 (La Sylphide), the pas de deux
from Napoli, for he seems to excel in Bournonville's
choreography, the peasant pas de deux (Giselle), and more
importantly, Le Spectre de la Rose, acclaimed by the public. He
is currently scoring a personal triumph as the Golden Idol in La
Although Thibault was there when Nureyev
created The Bayadère, a lingering regret is that, joining
the company after Rudolf Nureyev's departure as artistic director, he
never had the opportunity to work with the great Russian dancer,
director and choreographer.
"My closest contact with him
was when he asked me for advice", Thibault confided. "It was
in La Dansomanie (a reconstruction of a work by Pierre Gardel by
Ivo Cramér). I was nine or ten, a pupil in the school, and I'd
been chosen to dance Nureyev's son in the ballet. We hadn't had time to
rehearse the third act together, which I'd prepared with Georges
Piletta, so fifteen minutes before the curtain rose when I was panicking
as to what he would do, he came to ask me to show him what the ending
was, and teach him the steps ! It was really very funny".
All my contacts with him were fun ; the first time we met, I had to
climb on his shoulders and I remember being so careful to get everything
right. But then when I climbed down, I knocked off his little woolly
bonnet, but all he did was roar with laughter ".
teacher now is Noella Pontois (étoile of the Paris company 1968),
with whom he has worked exclusively for the last seven years. They share
a perfect professional partnership as well as a love for gardening,
travel, and music, for Emmanuel Thibault is also an accomplished
cellist. Playing an instrument as well as going to concerts,
exhibitions, the theatre and cinema contributes to his artistic
" My passion in life is dance, but it's also
important to have a life outside the Opéra ", said the young
dancer. " It enables me to give more on stage, and to dance each
performance as though it was unique. I use my technique as an instrument
; sometimes it's very hard, but the audience mustn't see that. After
all, they don't come to see a dancer who's suffering or in
pain....unless it's part of the story ", he laughed. " You
must always give an impression of lightness, ease, and mastery. And my
joy of being onstage obliterates all physical difficulties. I've
rehearsed so much that my steps become almost automatic, leaving my
spirit totally free to concentrate on the music and emotion".