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.
"Une petite mère"
By Noëlla Pontois, Étoile
There is an anecdote which often comes to mind. When I took the entrance exam for the Paris Opera Corps de Ballet, Yvette Chauviré was one of the judges. When the time came to list the results, intending to place me at the top of those who were admitted, in a moment of distraction, she listed me among the rejects. That was Yvette Chauviré, - a bit scatter-brained...
Later, she taught me the role of Giselle. As a young Étoile, I was thoroughly intimidated. I felt like a beginner again but she transmitted the role to me very generously. I remember it as a very enriching experience. Throughout my career, she never ceased to advise and help me. I have memories of her in my dressing room after performances of Suite en blanc by Serge Lifar, giving me corrections on my hair, my movements, my carriage. She was like a "petite mère" to me. She was very attentive. I felt I was part of her family. She remains the grand legatee of the Lifar style. And, through her, I have been able to inherit that style.
She had a very developed artistic sense, exceptional refinement and a rare intensity; a very charming quality with considerable elegance but also very witty, somewhere between Greta Garbo and Edwige Feuillère. She had humour and, above all, inspiration. And, more importantly, she inspired others. She remains an example for me, as a person but above all as an artist.
In Fokine’s The Death of the Swan, she was fabulous. Every evening, she offered something different, and always very moving and intelligent. This woman was inspired, she had a wonderful instinct and had acquired such a knowledge of dance that she could allow herself to modify the choreography every evening.
She gave something that many people can’t. During her lessons on style at the Opera, she taught not technique, but artistry. Most of the time, we couldn’t keep up with her. But she showed us the way. We just had to watch her.
Interviewed by Solène Souriau
“A great artist”
By Cyril Atanassoff, Étoile
For me, Yvette Chauviré is Greta Garbo in Queen Christina. She was an extraordinary actress who could take on any role, even masculine ones. A great performer, she knew how to move on stage. She spoke with her legs. It was she who taught me Prince Albrecht and Serge Lifar’s Les Mirages. She had her own vision of every character and everything she showed me concerning the masculine roles I have conserved. A very strong bond developed between us during Les Mirages. In this ballet, the man wants to get rid of his shadow, of his personality. Well, Yvette Chauviré, who was playing the shadow, stuck to you like glue. It was extraordinary.
She was often accused of being egocentric and coquettish. During the lessons on style she gave at the Paris Opera, people often complained that she spent all her time looking at herself in the mirror. But if she looked at her reflection, it was from a desire for perfection, for beauty of line. Through her reflection, she made sure she was giving the correct indications. Ultimately, her teaching worked largely by imitation. It was enough to watch her and to reproduce what you saw. I will always remember her arms: the wings of a swan but also the fragility of Giselle.
In the history of dance, she takes pride of place. A great artist, she embodies the French tradition of the Paris Opera. She was born for dance and will remain in the memories of ballet-lovers as one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century, if not the greatest.
Interviewed by Solène Souriau
“The refinement of the French school”.
By Elisabeth Platel, Étoile and Director of the School of Dance
I was present for Yvette Chauviré’s farewell performance in Giselle in 1972, when I was a pupil at the Paris Conservatoire. I realised I was seeing the departure of a great Étoile. She danced with Cyril Atanassoff, whom I, in my turn, was to partner in the same ballet a few years later!
When I joined the Company, she was giving lessons on style in a tiny studio… I can still see us all solemnly waiting for her, and then she would arrive, very elegant as always … she had an incredible presence. I also saw her working extensively with Dominique Khalfouni, then a young Étoile, in Swan Lake, Giselle … it was marvellous to see her carrying her along in her wake! Later, she supervised me for my role in Mirages, before I took inspiration from the interpretation of Nanon Thibon whose physique was closer to mine.
Finally, I enjoyed the privilege of dancing with her on stage. When Rudolf Nureyev arrived at the head of the Ballet in 1983, he wanted Yvette to be present to work with the Étoiles for the premier production of Raymonda. He found it strange that this extraordinary woman should sit at home with all that she had to contribute. He also entrusted her with the role of the Countess of Doris and it was to her that I presented a bouquet of flowers on the opening night. She had danced with Rudolf when he was a very young dancer, and now it was he, in his great generosity, that paid tribute to her.
She was so “sparkling”, with her gracious profile, her slightly upturned nose… That photo by Auber of the Grand Pas classique in which she glances round with a little wink, that was really her: lightness, humour, a very Parisian kind of wit… which did not prevent her from attaining a fabulous lyricism and an astonishing dramatic quality. Ultimately, she was resolutely “French”, with her characteristic en-dehors – the foot-work so typical of our school: a style she made royal, respectable, luminous… Yvette Chauviré brought to the Ballet a refined method of teaching, profoundly human but also very precise and demanding, and obviously very musical. And eminently feminine.
Interviewed by Juliette Puaux