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Ballet School Ensures Future for the Paris Opera Ballet, but What About the Dancers ?

Aurore Cordellier and partner
Aurore Cordellier

Juliette Gernez and Aurélien Houette
Juliette Gernez and Aurélien Houette

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 20 April 1999
- In Dame Ninette de Valois' book, "Come Dance with me", she quotes Enrico Cecchetti, who said there was no such thing as a prima ballerina under the age of twenty-six years, but that there was nothing more beautiful to see in life than the same in embryo in her late teens or very early twenties.

I heartily agree with him, although at the Paris Opéra school the embryonic age is now much lower. It's not possible to over-estimate the merits of "headmistress" Claude Golovine-Bessy whose tireless work has brought the school to that level.

Take Aurore Cordellier, not yet fifteen, whose development I have watched with fascination for several years. She danced Gourouli, the heroine in the matinée performance of "The two Pigeons" in the school's annual show at the Théatre des Champs - Elysées and impressed by her lovely technique and beauty of expression; daunting gifts in one so young. Seventeen year-old Juliette Gernez was aesthetically even more striking, but will need careful nurturing should she enter the company later this year.

Gourouli, a role created at the Paris Opéra by Carlotta Zambelli in 1912, was subsequently danced by her pupil, Christiane Vaussard who inherited the original notes and score. More recent performances were interpreted by étoiles Sylvie Guillem in 1981 and Agnès Letestu in 1987.

A simple story of betrayal and forgiveness, it is based on La Fontaine's fable:

"Deux pigeons s'aimaient d'amour tendre:
L'un d'eux, s'ennuyant au logis,
Fut assez fou pour entreprendre
Un voyage en lointain pays". (1)

Combining the tradition of the repertory with contemporary works, and again, how extraordinary are Claude Bessy's instinctive choices, Aveline's ballet was followed by John Neumeier's "Yondering". It was created for the National Ballet School of Canada in 1996 before being danced by Neumeier's own school in Hamburg.

Inspired by the wonderful songs of the nineteenth century American composer Stephen "Beautiful Dreamer" Foster, and recently recorded by the baritone Thomas Hampton, it is a work which Neumeier thinks should only be interpreted by young dancers who possess idealism and energy.

The school danced with such enthusiasm and verve, they not only made you forget they were still children, but demonstrated they were a whole company in themselves. Their superlative training has encouraged them to express their individual personality, and Neumeier's remarkable choreography, which they felt in their guts, spoke directly to them.

The level of the school has rarely been so high, and this was particularly noticeable this year in the boys whose maturity and assurance surpassed the girls. With such dancers as Florian Magnenet, Fabrice Calmels, and Sébastien Bertaud to cite but three, the future of the Paris Opéra is assured - but one can only wonder what will happen to the others if places are not available to everyone.

Florian Magnenet and Sébastien Bertaud
Florian Magnenet and Sébastien Bertaud
Their performance highlighted a problem facing the French National company. These young pupils are being trained to extremely high standards (for which Claude Bessy once told me she had been reproached), and they do not only deserve but need to occupy the front of the stage. Will they really be content with the back row in the classics?

Bursting with talent, and boundless energy, care must be taken so these promising new artists do not drift away to other companies, to Kylian, Duarto, or even Neumeier, who came to Paris himself to rehearse his ballet. Although the Paris Opéra Ballet as a company may now be the finest in the world, they no longer have the monopoly of strong male dancers.

Not all of these gifted teenagers can, will, or even want to dance Siegfried, and it is to be hoped that despite the accent justifiably placed on the classics, these youngsters will be given every opportunity, as in Pina Bausch's "Rites of Spring", despite the fact their fore-names seem to pre-destine them for the more romantic roles!

The school will go on tour to Canada and the U.S.A. in 2000.

Paris Opera Ballet School Gala

The Two Pigeons
Music: André Messager
Choreography: Albert Aveline, after Louis Mérante. Re-staged by Christiane Vaussard

Music: Stephen Foster
Choreography: John Neumeier

Photos : Icare/Moatti

(1) "There were once two pigeons who loved each other tenderly.
One of them, bored at home,
Was fool enough to undertake
A journey to a far away country".

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