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And Béjart created Bolero

Interview with the Dancer Etoile Mathias Heymann

By Anna Schauder 21 February 2018

And Béjart created Bolero

"As long as dance is considered as a rite, both sacred and human, it will fulfil its function". Taken from Maurice Béjart’s Mémoires, this description of dance is a perfect illustration of Melody, the mythical role of the soloist in Bolero. Drawing inspiration from numerous sources, Maurice Béjart associated Hindu and African gestures with those of strip-tease. The choreography's apparent simplicity serves as a mirror, revealing the personality of the dancer. Since the ballet entered the repertoire in 1970, very few performers have had the opportunity to dance on the famous red table. Encounter with Mathias Heymann, who will be joining the circle of the elected few in March.

You are currently rehearsing for the role of Melody, how do you get acquainted with this new role?

Mathias Heymann : Our ballet master, Fabrice Bourgeois, gave us, Amandine Albisson and myself, some “homework” to do. We were given a calligraphic sheet with little figures of dancers on it. They illustrate in detail the eighteen “phrases” that we interpret in the choreography of Bolero. One of them is called Cat, because the movement imitates the way in which a cat jumps up in the air. Another bears the name Crab, because the shape of our hands has to imitate a crab's pincers. For the phrase entitled BB, I imagined that the ports de bras swaying from right to left were imitating the rocking of a baby. In reality, Maurice Béjart was inspired by none other than Brigitte Bardot. So firstly, before we even started rehearsals, we memorised these “phrases”. Next, we put each movement to music in the studio and firmed up our own interpretation. Sizing up the studio during rehearsals is essential, because we don’t have the red table when we practise. In order to give myself spatial markers, I use two shoes. The distance between them corresponds to the diameter of the table, a bit like makeshift football goalposts. In the course of the rehearsals, we’ve tried several ideas, not all of which have worked. That’s why it’s important to have an external viewpoint from our coach and from other performers.
Mathias Heymann en répétition, Palais Garnier, 2018
Mathias Heymann en répétition, Palais Garnier, 2018 © Little Shao / OnP

What new choreographic language have you discovered?

Bolero is a very powerful choreography, and yet it remains very pure and simple in terms of movement. With Maurice Béjart, we need to leave the angles of classical positions aside and adopt very clear, straight lines. As we will be dancing at the Opéra Bastille, movements must be deployed to the maximum because of the distance between the stage and the auditorium. I’ve been listening to Maurice Ravel’s music a lot in order to get a precise idea of what I want to communicate. Dancing Melody is an unbelievable opportunity for me, especially since I’m performing it in the middle of my career. I may well be an Etoile with years of experience behind me, but Bolero remains a mythical role – to such an extent that I felt that it was too gigantic for me. I am grateful to Aurélie Dupont for this mark of confidence.

The role was initially conceived for female dancers. What characteristics does it, in your view, acquire when danced by a man?

There is a great difference between men and women, just as there is between all performers generally. Each brings his or her own touch to the choreography. However, I have the impression that an almost warlike and animalistic force emanates from masculine performances because of their physical stamina. With women, there is still strength, but it’s more magnetic. The choreography becomes an ode to femininity and the performer is elevated to the level of an icon. I have watched video recordings of Bolero with Duška Sifnios and Jacqueline Rayet. They are like majestuous goddesses! On the other hand, when I see Jorge Donn or Nicolas le Riche, they offer us a very strong performance, maybe more embodied, more concrete.

You are on the bill in both Onegin and Bolero. How do you make the transition from the narrative character of Lenski, the role that earned you your nomination to the rank of Etoile in 2009, to the highly abstract choreography of Bolero?

In general, I like to focus on one psychological state so as to make my interpretation as accomplished as possible. It is not easy to go physically and mentally from one role to another. I’m surfing on a wave of love with the romantic and true-hearted character of Lenski, whilst seeking to bring out a more animal, bestial side in Bolero. This new role gives me the opportunity to explore another facet of my personality that I haven’t necessarily been able to tackle until now.

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