Encounters

The Paris Opera pays tribute to Yvette Chauviré

3/3 — 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.


“A luminous woman”

By Agnès Letestu, Étoile

I knew Yvette Chauviré when I was still a pupil at the Ballet School, in the first division. She came to rehearse Suite en blanc by Serge Lifar with us. I clearly remember her arrival: a very elegant woman, smartly dressed and well groomed, she entered the studio and lit up the room. She watched us then said: “No, children, it’s not like that at all, I’ll show you.” She gave us a demonstration of style on the variation of “the flute”: arms, character: it was all there. Yvette also helped me to prepare the entrance examination to become a Première dancer, she helped me bring coherent direction to my interpretation. She had a great capacity to demonstrate with words and gestures, she was a wellspring of inspiration. Yvette had the gift of being in a role as if she had a bit of the costume with her, she was the character she embodied.

She was inventive, inspired and capable of changing the details of a choreography. Her creative temperament was very enriching for other dancers. Besides dance and gesture, she was always directed by an idea. Generous with her time and her knowledge, she had the gift of analysing what was wrong to tighten things up, and the capacity to find images and give appropriate advice for everything. Always elegant in role, I often wondered if she worked on her characters before rehearsals and if she always managed to get back into each role and completely live the part.

One can’t help citing Yvette Chauviré. Even today, when I’m teaching, I refer to her. For Swan Lake for example, one is constantly telling the dancers that the arms must be in front, never behind. That was Yvette Chauviré. Her influence is strong and powerful: one draws on it without ever questioning it: a synthesis that is so right; an essential reference.
   

Interviewed by Aliénor de Foucaud


“The triumph of femininity”

By Ghislaine Thesmar, Étoile

The first time I saw Yvette Chauviré dance, was in Giselle for Serge Lifar’s adieux, in 1956. She was majestic, a little cold but magical, completely unreal. Following that, I was bowled over when I saw her in Les Mirages and the Flute in Suite en blanc.

I really got to know her thanks to Pierre Lacotte. They were close friends and she often came round for dinner. She had a typically Parisian side with a touch of humour. She was what you call “chic”. Yvette Chauviré had the glamour of Greta Garbo, with a face that was extraordinarily well sculpted for catching the light, coupled with Parisian impertinence. She was one of those women whom I greatly admire and who radiate an exultant kind of femininity.

It was only later that she coached me: when I tackled the second act of Giselle at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées with Les Jeunesses Musicales. She didn’t really rehearse me on it, but she let me stay in the studio for hours while she worked herself. She gave me an intimate insight into her art and I learnt masses of things just watching her. The most extraordinary thing, ultimately, was not so much the eye she kept on me but the eye I kept on her.

She relied on instinct, on inspiration, besides having, obviously, an amazing technique. She was totally transformed by her work with Boris Kniassef. She managed to push her bodily sensations to the limit. It was fascinating to watch her aim for that in each of her roles. She occupies a primordial position in the history of French dance, attaining the highest artistic standards in her performances. Some people think that she was imprisoned by her own character. In reality, she transcended it through her imagination. Her horizon was immense.

Interviewed by Inès Piovesan

Yvette Chauviré dans Istar
Yvette Chauviré dans Istar © Séeberger Frères Centre des monuments nationaux

“One of a kind”

by Pierre Lacotte, choreographer

I first knew Yvette Chauviré when I was very young. I was still at the Paris Opera Ballet School and she was a Première Danseuse in the Opera’s Corps de Ballet. I was present when she was made an Étoile after the world premiere performance of Serge Lifar’s Istar. I saw her again in the production of Swan Lake which Victor Gorski staged for her and Serge Peretti, and she was superb; then in Les Mirages and Suite en Blanc in which she was fabulous, but also in Giselle and Coppélia not to forget Lifar’s Sylvia or Les Deux Pigeons… I saw her in all of the productions she danced at the Opera, as well as many elsewhere!

She approached her roles and characters with a great deal of thought and intelligence and when she captured the audience’s attention she dominated the performance and was a triumph.

When I danced Giselle in Paris for the first time, she was the one who made me work at the role of Albrecht. She was someone very precise. She would get to the essence of every detail, so that each gesture had significance. She explained how Albrecht had to walk or carry flowers—with nobleness of course. She was able to enthral you, bring you out of yourself with gentleness and elegance. She knew how to give confidence to the people she worked with and when you were on stage together it was incredible.

I was fortunate that a friendship developed between us and we were very close for over thirty years. We went out a lot. She was receptive to everything, music, cinema… She lived two-hundred percent and she had no conception of what banality was! She had exceptional class, genuine Parisian chic, a great sense of humour and true generosity. When it was time for me to bid farewell to the Opera, she came backstage every evening to offer me moral support. She was an exceptional person who left her mark along with unforgettable memories; I constantly have a picture of her in my mind.     

“Yvette Chauviré, the absolute”

by Dominique Delouche, director

I first encountered Yvette Chauviré as a spectator when I was a child, during the war. At that time, she was not yet “Yvette Chauviré”. She was a young Étoile and the public found her a little too vain and superficial. She had not yet blossomed as an artist. It was only after the Liberation of Paris, when Serge Lifar, banished from the Paris Opera, founded his own company in Monte-Carlo, that she was able to develop her work and really become the artist that we know today. Her art was completely transformed, abandoning everything superfluous. Purity became her touchstone.

Her sylph-like physique, which was not at all fashionable at the end of the 40s, made an immediate impression on Serge Lifar. She became his muse and her physique helped her in her development as an artist. She wasn’t technically outstanding; she had something else: a transcendental quality. A tenacious worker, it took her years of work to become “the” dancer of the 20th century. She was the only one to objectify herself, fashioning her body as an architect designs a monument. She continued to perform until the age of fifty-five. This longevity allowed her to invent a new way of dancing, constantly in the pursuit of the absolute. Avid for perfection, she had a very clear vision of what she was doing and what she wanted to do. Like a vestal virgin, she was utterly dedicated to her art. She devoted her life to dance.

As a worthy representative of the classical French style, she embodied understatement and measure. Her final performance of Swan Lake in which she was no longer a palpitating, dying creature but more like an ideogram, something fading away, was quintessential. She was the prima ballerina assoluta. She was the living embodiment of the absolute in dance.
   

Propos recueillis par Solène Souriau

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