No, young lady, you shan't go to the ball

An exchange of views on handing down a ballet

By Anna Schauder 12 July 2018

© Francette Levieux / OnP

No, young lady, you shan't go to the ball

Ballets are reborn from season to season, each time neither quite the same, nor altogether different. For the first time, Alice Renavand, Léonore Baulac, Germain Louvet and Paul Marque are performing, on alternate nights, the roles of Lise and Colas. An opportunity to see how a choreography is passed on from one generation to the next. Encounter with Clotilde Vayer, ballet master with the Department of Dance, Monique Loudières, former Étoile IN the Paris Opera Ballet and Emmanuel Thibault, repetiteur.

How would you define the role of ballet master?

Clotilde Vayer: The ballet master is like a conductor. Whereas we see the conductor in the pit during the performance, we no longer see the ballet master once the ballet is on stage. S/He prepares, amongst other things, the rehearsal schedule with an entire team of assistant ballet masters. It’s team work and requires trust, in this case with Lionel Delanoë and Viviane Descoutures. We share out the tasks so that each person can pass on whatever s/he has to offer and the result is successful.

How is the teaching process carried out? What ingredients do you give the dancers to help them appropriate the choreography?

Monique Loudières: As a repetiteur, I always begin by giving the dancers a clearly defined canvas so that the choreography be respected. Next, I urge the performers to bring their own touches of colour to the variation. I leave them what I call “little pearls of freedom” so that they can offer their own interpretation. This is essential given that the work survives thanks to them.   
Clotilde Vayer en répétition
Clotilde Vayer en répétition © Svetlana Loboff / OnP

How does one tackle a revival once the choreographer is no longer with us?

M.L. It is important to remain humble with regard to the great repertoire works. We must first of all understand the choreographer’s vision, have a knowledge of his work and read up on the subject. I try to remain faithful to the demands of the choreographer and to my memories of them, to their way of moving and to how they imagined things. It is essential to maintain the same rigour with regard to choreography and musicality whilst also adopting an educational approach adapted to our society. You can surpass yourself and be surprised by your own performance if you continue to respect certain constraints.

Emmanuel Thibault: There is no mystery: the best thing is always to be in contact with people who have worked with the original performer of the role. Before dancing this ballet, for example, I worked with Alexander Grant, who first performed the role of Alain. The steps in La Fille mal gardée are not particularly complicated from a technical point of view. It’s the combination of steps that is difficult to assimilate for the dancers in the Company, because it is not their “school”. As well as that, managing all the props adds a supplementary difficulty. This must be learnt like the steps themselves, since the ribbons, for example, form an integral part of the choreography. With bottles, or a fork in your hands, you cannot use your arms in the same way as if you didn’t have any props. The body has to compensate. I have been lucky enough to encounter this ballet both from the point of view of the performer and of the repetiteur, since I danced the role of Colas several times before being put in charge of rehearsals for a pair of young soloists in 2015. For a dancer, this ballet is very different from any other. There are very precise combinations of steps which is what makes its choreography unique. La Fille mal gardée is a very enjoyable ballet to dance and very “logical”. It is relatively easy to learn because everything is written in the music. It’s a piece of danced theatre, in which the choreography of each character is regulated as if written on manuscript paper. It only remains to add one’s own personality.

What choreographic language distinguishes the role of Colas? How would you describe this character?

E.T.: Colas is the most likeable of the villagers and above all, the sweetheart of Widow Simone’s daughter, Lise. It is essential to work on your technical resources in order to make him endearing – and then you must be able to get the right dose of humour. Colas is not a clown after all! For “La Fille”, it is essential not to resort to slapstick at the risk of turning it into a grotesque farce. The constant oscillation between comedy and romance has to be managed with great subtlety where the characters of Lise and Colas are concerned.

How would you describe the spirit of the ballet to someone who has never seen La Fille mal gardée?

E.T.: The ballet is joyful and very pleasing. I would say that La Fille mal gardée is a ballet for all the family, par excellence. It appeals to all age groups. Young children and grandparents alike, everyone leaves the theatre with a smile on their faces!    

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