Encounters

The Paris Opera pays tribute to Yvette Chauviré

2/3 — By Octave

On 22nd April, Yvette Chauviré would have been 100 years old. An immense artist, ambassadress of the French style, generous, elegant and an excellent teacher, the dancer Étoile left a solid and lasting mark on the Paris Opera Ballet and on the world of dance. To honour her memory, the Opera is devoting an exceptional evening to her. Octave has interviewed some of the artists who worked with her and who reveal their memories episode by episode from now until the gala.   


“An artist through and through”

By Monique Loudières, Étoile

I discovered Yvette Chauviré when I was still a pupil at the Ballet School: I was present for her farewell performance in Giselle with Cyril Atanassoff. At the time, Yvette was the “super star” of the School. We were always hearing about her. She must have been about fifty but she was still dancing. I saw Yvette again once I had joined the Corps de Ballet. She was giving classes in style which only the very motivated students attended. Later, I worked on the second act of Giselle with her and she talked a lot about the psychology of the character. We also worked on Lifar’s Les Mirages together when I became an Étoile. She was very open in her suggestions. I also took part in the Delouche adventure, performing alongside her in the documentary Une étoile pour exemple. Finally, I remember Yvette Chauviré as répétitrice taking me to Les Croisières de la danse with the dancers of the Opera.

She was an elegant, exceptionally charismatic woman, witty and subtle, with a wonderful aura. She could also be highly whimsical: like when she used to make us work on the wings from Swan Lake in the middle of our barre exercises, taking off in a flight of lyricism and artistry! You had to observe what she was doing to learn from her, to soak it up like a sponge. She was funny, with a subtle sense of humour, but she was also very demanding and unpredictable. I still remember her musicality and the refinement of her gestures.

I often think of her when I’m teaching. Yvette Chauviré belongs to the same family of artists and coaches as Violette Verdy and Ghislaine Thesmar, inspired and open in their way of passing on their art. She knew how to recreate a work in a more modern way whilst still respecting the past. Her spark of eccentricity, her freedom and open-mindedness have never left me. Yvette was a romantic ballerina, a dancer of character with incredible temperament. An artist through and through.   

Propos recueillis par Aliénor de Foucaud


“A reference for an entire generation”

By Élisabeth Maurin, Étoile and ballet teacher at the Paris Opera

When I joined the Opéra in the 80s, I took her classes on style. She had a very particular style of teaching. It was better to arrive having already warmed-up, as we always got straight down to artistic matters with her sublime adages. I also remember working on all those notions like port de bras, the movement of the tulle, the lyricism and the romanticism that she taught so well. As an Étoile, it was with her that, though more accustomed to brighter roles, I was able to tackle a more sombre and romantic repertoire: Giselle, La Suite en blanc and Les Mirages.

Giselle, a memorable experience: in 1983, when I was still a Sujet, Rudolf Nureyev asked me to dance it with him in Vienna… And I had only two days to learn the role! A challenge that seemed crazy and inconceivable and, at the same time, I couldn’t have turned down such an opportunity. He called on Yvette Chauviré to coach me: she was extraordinary and gave me the key to it, the essential things. She was obsessed with the beginning of Act II: Giselle rises from her tomb, transformed into a Wili. An entrance that doesn’t seem like much but which is technically very demanding. I remember rehearsing it endlessly in order to create the illusion that I was floating over the floor in an almost ethereal way. I think that the pure, unreal and soulful vision she had of Act II has remained rooted in our way of imagining Giselle. Today, when I rehearse it with students, I remain faithful to what she taught me.

The few moments I spent at her side no longer belong to the domain of work but to that of pure artistry, something much stronger. When she made a gesture, there was always meaning behind it. She didn’t explain her movements point by point, she demonstrated, with few words. She had her feet firmly on the ground and yet she was also reaching for the skies: the perfect definition of a dancer! Even if today, the repertoire of the Paris Opera has greatly evolved and is seen in a different light, that message is still there. Yvette Chauviré was one of the great ladies of dance and will remain a reference for an entire generation.

Propos recueillis par Juliette Puaux

Yvette Chauviré vers 1940
Yvette Chauviré vers 1940 © Séeberger Frères – Centre des monuments nationaux

“To be a ballerina”

By Isabelle Guérin, Étoile

I met Yvette Chauviré for the first time in a corridor at the Palais Garnier. I was still very young and had only been in the Corps de Ballet for a year and a half. She wanted me to come to her lessons: she was holding masterclasses, mainly with the Étoiles. That encounter was amazing. I saw her again afterwards, at various times in my career; I have a very good memory of her in rehearsals for Giselle: I was working on the role with Ghislaine Thesmar, and Yvette came in at the end of a rehearsal to give me advice and talk to me: “The first act, it’s like in cinema, they say “Action” and you’re off,” she said. It was enough to watch her and take in everything she said. On becoming an Étoile, I inherited her dressing room, - a very powerful symbol…

Yvette Chauviré will remain for me a great lady who was always full of wonderment. Her joy of living and her desire to pass on her experience were inextricably linked. Yvette was elegance, generosity and passion personified: a woman who remained ever young and very accessible; a woman illuminated. She was very much a woman of her time, never living in the past.

Yvette exemplified the difference between a dancer and a ballerina. Technique did not necessarily interest her but she knew how to be on stage; she caught the light; she made the space her own. Yvette Chauviré gave me so many things that I continue to pass on: a particular way of sensing light and warmth. Today, our role is to pass on what she left us, to share, to hand down her knowledge.

Propos recueillis par Aliénor de Foucaud

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