Encounters

Happy Valentine

A new Étoile at the Opera — By Inès Piovesan

Recently named an Étoile in Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote, Valentine Colasante is preparing to perform in Benjamin Millepied’s Daphnis et Chloé alongside Germain Louvet before joining up with Hofesh Shechter for the entry of The Art of Not Looking Back into the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire. An interview with a fresh, enthusiastic and determined dancer graced who thrives on her experiences and perosnal energy to perfect her art.    


It’s been two months since you were named an Étoile. What comes to mind when you look back to that evening on January 5?

Valentine Colasante: I remember the performance more than anything else. I knew three days before that I was going to dance the role of Kitri. Everything happened so quickly. I found myself on the evening of the show not having had any time to think. I truly remember the energy of the Corps de Ballet and the speed at which the performance seemed to pass… And then, during the curtain calls, Aurélie Dupont arrived on stage…. And then, suddenly, time seemed to stand still and I had the impression that the whole thing lasted for hours! It was an amazing moment, particularly because I wasn’t expecting it. It was also Karl Paquette’s last Don Quixote. He is leaving next season so the emotion on stage was already palpable.

 

Did the implication of what it means to be named an Étoile sink in quickly?

V. C. : Obviously, it’s something one has dreamed of since childhood. You imagine what it would be like to be an Étoile. Then, as you slowly advance up the ladder, the little girl’s dream gradually becomes a reality and you become aware of the difficulties, the responsibilities… For me, the appointment translates into a feeling of incredible freedom. It’s a recognition which gives you confidence in the artist that you are. It’s also a new responsibility. I’m very attached to this House. I’m aware of the influence it exerts in France and abroad and it is important to represent it in the best way possible. In terms of work, you have to be an example for the Company, but I don’t want to look on the title as a source of pressure.   
Valentine Colasante et François Alu dans Rubis (Joyaux) de George Balanchine, Opéra de Paris, 2017
Valentine Colasante et François Alu dans Rubis (Joyaux) de George Balanchine, Opéra de Paris, 2017 © Julien Benhamou / OnP

In the last few years, an entire generation of Étoiles have been retiring. What does it mean to be an Étoile today and how do you see your own generation?

V. C.: It’s very moving to watch the Étoiles I’ve admired leave. They have been role models for me since I was back in the Ballet School. I have observed them and watched them because that’s also how you learn. Now, of course, we must pick up the torch! I don’t think we can talk of a “generation” in the sense that each Étoile is different. None are artistically, mentally or physically alike. Among the Étoiles named recently, we all know each other very well. We’re very supportive of each other, we share advice. We were made Étoiles at a relatively young age and we still have several years ahead of us at the Opera. Being an Étoile means being faithful to ourselves, honest in what we propose on stage and being as sincere to ourselves as possible.    
Daphnis et Chloé : Valentine Colasante en répétition avec Allister Madin, Opéra de Paris, 2018
Daphnis et Chloé : Valentine Colasante en répétition avec Allister Madin, Opéra de Paris, 2018 © Little Shao / OnP

The Opera will soon be celebrating its 350th anniversary…

V. C.: Yes, I think about that from time to time! It’s like a torch being passed down. I will pass it on to others in the future. We’re fortunate to be able to count on the presence of the Étoiles who have danced and worked on the roles before us to facilitate their transmission to us. It enables us to assimilate a stock of knowledge. At the moment I’m rehearsing Daphnis et Chloé. Aurélie Dupont, who created the role, came to the rehearsal to show me and pass on what she knew.

       

Has anything changed for you yet?

V. C.: Not really! I continue to do my barre exercises every day, I work on my roles with as much fervour… I still haven’t performed my first role as an Étoile. That will happen on March 15. What might change later is the possibility of choosing roles and ballets. The “secondary” roles were very formative because they are a necessary step in acquiring technique and building confidence. But I’ve reached a point in my career where I want to dance the roles of a soloist and carry an entire ballet on my shoulders, knowing that it’s possible because my development has been progressive. I still see myself as a young Étoile who has a lot of things to discover and explore. Becoming an Étoile opens new doors, it’s not an end in itself.

       

What are your next projects at the Opera?

V. C.: I’m pleased to be taking my first steps as an Étoile in Daphnis et Chloé. That ballet tells a story; the music is absolutely sublime, Daniel Buren’s staging is spectacular and Benjamin Millepied’s choreography offers considerable freedom. There’s a pleasant fluidity to dancing the piece. The numerous pas de deux allow you to search for and build complicity with your partner.

After that I’ll be performing in Hofesh Shechter’s The Art of Not Looking Back, a work that will be entering the Paris Opera’s repertoire. I’m familiar with his work but I’ve never had the opportunity to work with him. It’s important for me to be able to alternate classical and contemporary pieces. The contemporary enriches me in the classical and vice-versa. I’m awaiting the creation with impatience. It’s a unique experience to be in the studio. It creates a special human relationship with the choreographers who guide us and create through us.    

Valentine Colasante dans Le Sacre du printemps de Pina Bausch, Opéra de Paris, 2017
Valentine Colasante dans Le Sacre du printemps de Pina Bausch, Opéra de Paris, 2017 © Sébastien Mathé / OnP

Is there a repertoire in which you feel more comfortable?

V. C.: Both bring me a lot. I love to perform classical ballets because I like that precision. Strangely enough, it offers considerable freedom. With the classical technique, there’s something extremely uncompromising yet there’s also incredible freedom because, in the end, everything is so codified and precise that you cannot lie. I’ve had some very powerful experiences with the contemporary. The Rite of Spring was a unique experience—probably the most beautiful I’ve had to date. It has allowed me to understand a lot of things about myself and what I wanted to express on stage. It also allowed me to break through some barriers; that desire to over-strive or conceal weaknesses… I’m not the same dancer since that experience.

   

What have been the other key moments in your career?

V. C.: Don Quixote is a ballet with which I have a long history. It was the first ballet I saw at the Opera with Sylvie Guillem and Nicolas Le Riche. I’d always identified with the character and I’d always dreamed of performing the role. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to dance it in Japan. It was my first three-act performance. It’s a ballet I first performed as a stand-in and it became the ballet for which I was named an Étoile … It’s something of a seminal ballet for me! In terms of the contemporary, aside from “Rite of spring”, Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura was also a powerful experience. In that ballet, we are stripped bare, both literally and figuratively. For someone as modest as myself, that seemed impossible for me. But Kylián’s choreographies require so much humility and preclude all artifice, that you end up forgetting that you’re naked.    
Valentine Colasante dans In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated  de William Forsythe, Opéra de Paris, 2012
Valentine Colasante dans In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated de William Forsythe, Opéra de Paris, 2012 © Ann Ray / OnP

Who are the personalities that have left a lasting impression on you?

V. C.: The first major role I danced at the Opéra was Thème et variations. I worked on it with Aurélie Dupont, who was not yet dance director. It was my first experience in the studio with an Étoile. It taught me a great deal about the work of an Étoile, what it meant to dance a major role at the Paris Opera, and what I wanted to express. I also have a lot of admiration for Marie-Claude Pietragalla, her temperament, her strength and her beauty. I don’t know her personally but every time I’ve seen her dance, she transcended me. At the other end of the scale, the sensitivity and fragility of Carla Fracci also moves me. It’s important for an artist to be able to show different facets.

Elisabeth Platel, who was my director at the Ballet School and gave me my first roles when I was a pupil, has played an important role in my career. As has Jean-Guillaume Bart, a mentor for many years. He was there when I joined the Company, at the time of my competitive examinations. He always had a frank, precise and kindly regard.

In the last few years, I’ve worked with a lot of other artists—Clotilde Vayer, Stéphanie Romberg, Lionel Delanoë, Fabrice Bourgeois—all of whom who were wonderful coaches.

   


What can we hope for you in the future?

V. C.: Lots of great roles! I would love to work with Mats Ek who is preparing two creations for next season. We’re extremely fortunate that he is returning especially since he had announced his retirement. He remains a legend for me. I’m also thinking of Swan Lake; it’s obviously a ballet that makes you dream. And Giselle, if only for the mad scene. Up until now, I’ve had some very powerful experiences with the contemporary: I’ve worked with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, William Forsythe, Sasha Waltz…. I’ve already made a lot of encounters. I’ve yet to meet Mats Ek and other choreographers such as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Ohad Naharin… I’m confident I will. We’ll see!    

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