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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 23 JANUARY 2008 — The end of 2007 at the Paris Opéra Ballet was marked by demonstrations from the school, prizes, promotions and awards to promising dancers, culminating in two glittering productions of Rudolf Nureyev's Nutcracker and Pierre Lacotte's Paquita .

At the beginning of December, the Demonstrations of the Paris Opéra School which was celebrating its 30 years of existence, presented not only the daily work of the company, but the very reason why the French troupe possesses such a fabulous corps de ballet . The level, both technically and artistically of each class was particularly high, and it was interesting to note that generosity of movement and musicality headed the list of priorities. "Listen to the music" was the directive most frequently heard.

Founded by Louis XIV in 1713, the demonstrations of the school's unique teaching methods were only opened to the public, an audience composed of dance-lovers in general as well as teachers and prospective pupils from all over France, in 1977. And although the programme is presented as "showing" in the sense of revealing the teaching progress, it is a fascinating spectacle, particularly in this anniversary year.

Classes of contemporary dance, mime, tap and folk-dancing as well as classical academic work were presented and all were most enjoyable. Roxana Barbacaru's class of "character" dancing, a fabulous demonstration of Irish traditional "jigs" by the schools 3rd division, of pupils aged between 14 and 15, was stunning enough to put Riverdance to shame, while Scott Alan Prouty's expression musicale was sheer joy to watch. At each level, the children, for children they were being aged from 8 to 18, were enjoying every minute of it. As was the happy audience.

Ecole de danse
Ballet de l'Opera de Paris
Photo: David Elofer

From 2004 the school has been directed by opera étoile Elisabeth Platel, one of the most beautiful classical ballerinas of her generation, who created roles in Nureyev's Raymonda, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty , and La Bayadère . Classes are taught by Elisabeth Maurin and Fabienne Cerruti, Fanny Gaida and Carole Arbo, all of them exceptional ballerinas who also worked with and were particularly close to Rudolf Nureyev. Their teaching is a continuation of what went on before, as is that of Bernard Boucher, premier danseur under the directorship of the great Russian.

Sarah Kora Dayanova and Mathias Heymann are two of the promising young dancers in the French company, who were, just a few years ago, pupils of this prestigious school. They were recently awarded the "Prix A.R.O.P.", two prizes given by a group of sponsors who follow all productions attentively. As part of their work, young artists are rewarded for consistently good performances during the year.

Mathias Heymann
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

Twenty-three year old Sarah Kora Dayanova, whose gifts have already been noticed at an international level, having carried off no less than three medals at the prestigious Competition of Lausanne, a first prize in Luxemburg as well as gold medals in Geneva and Helsinki, is currently ranked "sujet". The Swiss-born young ballerina has been chosen to interpret several important roles this year and was an impressive Queen of the Driads in Don "Quixotte, an adorable bridesmaid in the ballet of the same name and gave a beautiful performance as the soloist in "Winter", in Nureyev's Cinderella. With her pretty face, buoyant, impeccable technique and undeniable stage presence, she is easily recognizable in the corps de ballet, having a temperament and personality that distinguishes her from any other. In the annual competition for promotion within the company, her interpretation of Nikiya's solo from Act 2 was sublime, and her performance of Robbins ballet both personal, strong and exciting.

Mathias Heymann, who began studying dance at the age of 9 in Marseilles entered the Opera school at the unusually late age of 14, passing the whole course and securing a place in the company within three years. In his case, the opera administration has lost no time in recognizing unusual talent and from his participation in Young Dancers last year where he danced the Bluebird pas de deux, 2007 has seen him take over the roles of Basilio in Don Quixotte, Colas in La Fille mal gardée, and currently, Lucien, the hero of Paquita. His performance as Genus in Wayne McGregor's ballet was outstanding, a fact which also earned him the Prix Carpeaux and a promotion to the rank of Premier Danseur at the Paris Opera's internal competition for promotion over Christmas.

Stéphane Bullion, a tall, dark and handsome 27 year-old, was also promoted to the rank of Premier Danseur in an overdue recognition of his talents. Winner of the "Prix A.R.O.P." four years ago, he was also chosen to dance the title role in Ivan the Terrible by Iouri Grigorovitch earlier that year. A superb interpreter, with great dramatic power allied to a solid, precise technique, he left the audience gasping throughout the tragic impassioned solos and pas de deux. Partnered by the exquisite Mathilde Froustey as his first wife, Anastasia, also chosen by the Russian choreographer, the pair of young dancers proved unforgettable.

Stéphane Bullion
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

Mathilde Froustey is one of the "baby ballerinas" of the future and not only of the Paris Opera Ballet. In 2004, she was awarded the A.R.O.P. prize, and also obtained the gold medal at the prestigious Competition of Varna which won her international recognition. Blessed with an expressive, delicate little face and almond-shaped dark brown eyes, a legacy of her French/Vietnamese origins, she is also easily identifiable within the ranks of the corps de ballet, where she is to be found less and less.

Mathilde Froustey
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

Her ability to assume and dance leading roles has found her interpreting Lise, from la Fille mal gardée, for which she received triumphal reviews and more recently, Clara in Rudolf Nureyev's Nutcracker, a role which suited her to perfection. As "Manou" in La Bayadère, she was enchanting, while she stole the stage and the spectators' hearts as Cupidon in Don Quixotte. In the company's internal competition for promotion, she gave a most moving interpretation of Nikiya's Act 2 variation from Nureyev's La Bayadère, followed by Odette's solo from Act 2 of his Swan Lake, leaving many in the audience with a wish to see her in the full-length work.

But very curiously, neither she nor Sarah Kora Dayanova were promoted to the rank of Première Danseuse at the annual company's competition. The two posts went to more senior members of the troupe, lovely, long-limbed, graceful girls, somewhat bland, but both exemplary members of the corps de ballet .

Eve Grinsztajn
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

Muriel Zusperreguy and Eve Grinsztajn, aged 30 and 26 respectively now find themselves in the embarrassing position of perhaps having to dance roles beyond their capabilities. Neither has won any international competition nor shown they can interpret any classical role worth mentioning, Grinsztajn's claim to fame resting on a pretty interpretation of a pas de deux from Cinderella in the Young Dancer's programme of 2002, where she was out-shone and out-danced by Dorothée Gilbert in Balanchine's Tchaikovski pas de deux and by a ravishing Mathilde Froustey who shone as one of the four women in José Martinez' Mi Favorita. The more experienced Zusperreguy might fare a little better, particularly in less demanding contemporary works. In a company which can claim to be one of the finest in the world, it is just a little sad that promotion goes to those lacking the fire, temperament and personality so often missing in dance today.

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at

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