Étoile dancers Mathias Heyman and Myriam Ould-Braham
are performing two of the three ballets that comprise the George Balanchine
programme: the revival of Brahms-Schönberg
Quartet and Mozartiana a work
that is entering the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire. In a tribute to Violette
Verdy, they will also be dancing Sonatine,
performed only during the first five performances. During the photo shoot to capture
the image that would ultimately appear on the production poster, Mathias Heyman
gives his impressions on this poetic, truly musical, and highly demanding
You and Myriam Ould-Braham are performing Sonatine, in tribute to Violette Verdy for the George Balanchine programme. Did you know her and what legacy did she leave you?
What did she teach you about Balanchine?
Today, we’re rehearsing with Bart Cook who comes from the Balanchine Trust. He says Violette was a mixture of musicality, freshness, simplicity and grace... Sonatine was created around her and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous who was an Étoile dancer at the Paris Opera. The pas de deux in it is a demonstration of Balanchine’s vision of French elegance.
It is more than just
a pas de deux: the presence of the piano on stage together with Ravel’s
music—which is a focal point of the piece—in reality makes it more of a trio.
There’s an interplay between the dance and the music. You need to achieve a
symbiosis which means that we no longer can tell whether it is music or dance
which initiates the movement.
You underline the importance of Balanchine's musicality. How does that translate in his ballets?
You mention different atmospheres for each work. In the end, what do the pieces in the evening’s programme have in common and what differentiates them?
M. H.: There’s no doubt that they all share this special relationship with the music. In Brahms Schönberg Quartet, there are four movements which stand out through the music. Each movement brings a different dramaturgy. Myriam and I perform the third, “romantic” one. The atmosphere is calm, I’m surrounded by ballerinas only and there’s something very fluid about it. The movement which follows, on the other hand, is a real firework display—it releases an energy which suits the ballet’s finale.
Sonatine is more like a ballad. There are numerous references to water in Ravel’s music. It’s bucolic. When Balanchine created Sonatine, he was focused on Violette and he gave her male partner the role of a sort of spirit who accompanies the thoughts of the ballerina. Often, in a classical pas de deux, the man is in control. In this case, he has to allow himself to be guided; to find with his partner a means of letting go, going with the flow.
Finally, Morzatiana makes me think of the royal courts. There’s something majestic and noble about the ballet. It’s one of Balanchine’s last creations and the culmination of his career: He was nearing the end of his life, he had amassed a vast body of knowledge. Technically, it is brilliant. The dancer has some very demanding steps from a technical point of view that require a certain virtuosity.
Looking at those photographs, we get the impression there’s a huge complicity between the two of you, and at the same time gentleness and discipline. Are those the qualities needed to dance Balanchine?
M. H: Myriam and I share a genuine mutual trust. We’ve been dancing together for a long time. Working together every day we end up anticipating each other's reactions or simply adapting to what the other has given us. Myriam has a sensitivity and a fragility which impels me to be even more attentive. There’s also something naturally radiant about her. These are dances for couples. There’s a genuine exchange between the two partners. From start to finish, Sonatine is a succession of questions and answers, a continuous interaction between her and him. You have to manage to come on stage as if you don’t know the steps in advance and are responding as naturally as possible to your partner's proposition. Of course, the choreography is far more complex than it may seem, but a performer who soars and who takes pleasure in dancing is priceless. And I will continue to strive towards that simplicity and naturalness.
Interviewed by Inès Piovesan