Encounters

As in a Dream

Encounter with Simon Valastro — By Solène Souriau

Sébastian Bertaud, Bruno Bouché, Simon Valastro and Nicolas Paul, all dancers with the Paris Opera, offer us their creations for the company’s dancers on the stage of the Palais Garnier. An opportunity to examine the choreographer’s profession and, more importantly, to reveal to the public four personalities, four of today’s dancers and four choreographers of tomorrow.


The Little Match Girl is a tale that has often been revisited. Why did you choose David Lang’s version, The Little Match Girl Passion?

I discovered David Lang’s piece in 2008. The fairytale, for the force of the themes it reveals, had always interested me; the way in which David Lang rearticulated the narrative by creating a parallel between the little girl and the Passion of Christ also seemed to me pertinent. The piece borrows from oratorio by alternating recitative and aria. Fifteen sequences structure the work: the recitatives are composed from texts in English taken from the famous tale by Andersen. The arias often take up quotations from the Gospels.

Four singers and two percussionists accompany the dancers. How have you shared the space between them?

In the original version, the percussion is entrusted to the singers. However, to allow greater freedom of movement on stage, I chose rather to give the two instruments to percussionists who will be in the orchestral pit. I chose to rehearse separately. The singers and the dancers share the stage but evolve in two distinct spaces.

What were your sources of inspiration?

I was very much inspired by Lars von Trier and David Lynch for the conception of the image. I wanted to get away from narrative and evoke elements of the tale (the cold, the snow, the matches and the Christmas Tree) in a random way, as in a strange dream or the delirium resulting from hypothermia. I was also inspired by religious iconography: positions and gestures that evoke religious worship, as much in Renaissance painting as in more contemporary sculptures.

Bruno Bouché, Nicolas Paul, Sébastien Bertaud, Simon Valastro à la Rotonde Zambelli, Palais Garnier
Bruno Bouché, Nicolas Paul, Sébastien Bertaud, Simon Valastro à la Rotonde Zambelli, Palais Garnier © Julien Benhamou / OnP

What were your different aims in this creation?

The stage of the Palais Garnier is very old and very well equipped. I wanted to exploit it to the maximum. It is a testimony to all the productions that have been performed there and it permits the use of interesting special effects. This also meant I had to increase the number of dancers in order to fill such a big stage.

How does one become a choreographer with the Paris Opera Ballet?

I have felt had the desire to choreograph but it is only recently that it became something concrete. To concentrate entirely on one’s career as a dancer can be an obstacle to creativity. Today, I am looking for a language that I would like to develop, to build on progressively. It is something that takes time and evolves gradually.

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