Muriel Zusperreguy and Vincent Chaillet in ‘Don Quixote’ © Julien Benhamo



The two First soloists of the Paris Opéra Ballet on being partners, facing challenges and their debut in Rudolf Nureyev version of “Don Quixote”
Interview was published in Dance for You Magazine Spring 2013


As she enters the stage as Kitri, Muriel Zusperreguy attracts attention like a magnet. She is a mix of beauty, strong charisma and elegance. Confident in technique – very precise pirouettes and balances – and tremendously smart, the première danseuse shines in Nureyev’s “Don Quixote” with her verve and her enchanting liveliness. By her side, premier danseur Vincent Chaillet evidently enjoys the performance: his Basilio can be as funny as imperious. The partnership works sparklingly well.

When I meet them in the canteen of the Opéra Garnier, the day after their second-last show, they both look quite pleased. Chaillet comes punctually to collect me at the stage entrance. It’s almost impossible not to stare when Zusperreguy arrives (only five minutes late). There is no vain ballerina: only a chic girl, relaxed and makeup-free.

Your first partnership memory.

M.Z. I was ten years old, and it was on the occasion of the ballet school demonstrations show… a little pas de deux from a folk dance, with a young boy of my same class. It was quite easy… almost nothing if compared to “Don Quixote”, of course. But, at that time, it looked so very difficult to me!

V.C. My first partnering memory goes back when I was at the second division level, attending the ballet school. They needed a guy to make all the girls of the first division dance, and asked me to be brave and join them. Attilio Labis was teaching: he had choreographed a pas de deux on “La Source” music. All the girls learnt it very well, while I didn’t, and they were more experienced than me… it was very stressing!

How long did your preparation of “Don Quixote” take?

M.Z. One month and half…

V.C. … yes, more or less. We started rehearsing together two months before our première, but all in all it was one month and half…

M.Z. Indeed. It was a quite intense period as we were scheduled to dance also in the William Forsythe / Trisha Brown mixed bill at Garnier…

V.C. … and when Forsythe / Brown shows started, at the beginning of December, our work intensified. On the whole, we had one month and half to prepare “Don Quixote”.

Muriel Zusperreguy in
Rudolf Nureyev version of “Don Quixote”
© Julien Benhamo

And how long did it take to make the partnership work?

M.Z. Vincent and I know each other very well, as we meet every day here at the Paris Opéra… but “Don Quixote” represented the first occasion to face a big ballet together. The complicity was immediate, though… Clearly, we worked to refine our performances and to find always new details to show to the audience, but everything was very natural and easy between us.

V.C. We helped each other a lot. Preparing “Don Quixote” was a sort of adventure for us both and we tried to work on it the best way. We joked a lot, on stage and in the wings… a glance or a smile sometimes make the difference. I supported Muriel and she supported me, creating a very nice atmosphere.

Muriel Zusperreguy and Vincent Chaillet in
‘Don Quixote’ © Julien Benhamo

What was the hardest thing to achieve? A flowing interaction or being on the same wavelength as actors?

M.Z. Complicity as actors was far more easy to achieve. Technical stuffs required a longer work to be fully developed… the pirouettes, the portées… but the acting play was built quite quickly.

V.C. The most important work, in rehearsal, was about finding solutions for the physical interaction, due to the height difference, and adjusting each other, particularly with the lifts.

What is the most difficult moment of “Don Quixote”, for the leading couple?

M.Z. The last pas de deux is the true moment of bravura: everybody knows it very well, it is often performed at galas…

V.C. It is a legendary pas de deux and the audience always waits for. It is difficult as expectations make it quite stressful.

M.Z. Besides, you are very tired when you dance it, as it comes at the end of a very demanding ballet.

V.C. But, as for the technique, the second act pas de deux can be more difficult… Nureyev created it on a music excerpt from “La Bayadère”. It is very agreeable to dance, but the interaction with the partner is far more complicated than in the third act pas de deux.

And the hardest variation?

M.Z. Of course there are steps and styles which suit my characteristics… and other ones which are more difficult for me. It is obvious I work above all on the last ones. In example, Dulcinea’s variation from the dream scene: I like it very much… danced by someone else! It is very calm and requires a great control, while as a dancer I think to be more… “tonique”. That’s why I worked a lot on it, in order to appreciate it the most and to dance it the best way. It was not just about the technique… it was about feeling appropriate for that solo.

V.C. The first act is the most difficult part of “Don Quixote”. Basilio is often on stage and dances a lot. It was like being in front of a wall, at the beginning. Two variations, an adagio, a coda, lots of lifts…

The worst moment in rehearsal.

M.Z. There were days in which things did not work that well. I felt Vincent was not at his best: he was hesitant… he was not at his ease. It was a bad moment for me as well, as I wanted to help him and I felt useless. That’s what happens when there is empathy between two dancers. Finding the way to support your partner, the right words to say at difficult moments in order to make him trust himself again… it is a mutual exchange. That’s ballet, too.

V.C. We had two terrible days of rehearsals. I was in very low spirits and I didn’t want Muriel to suffer such a situation. I just wanted her to believe I was going to be able to manage it.

M.Z. It was hard as we were rehearsing Forsythe’s and Brown’s ballets too. It is not easy, especially while you are getting ready for such a début: “Don Quixote” is so very challenging.

V.C. Indeed. If one of us was on stage at the Palais Garnier in the evening… it was almost impossible to give the hundred percent rehearsing “Don Quixote”. You try to save most of your energy for the performance of the day.

Your début was even anticipated, due to other dancers’ injuries. How was it?

M.Z. Stressing, but exciting. We knew we were ready, we knew we could do it. I must admit we had a moment of panic… one week less of rehearsal! It is not a trifle. But we chose to have a go at it.

V.C. We had had a very few stage rehearsals… and we had never rehearsed “Don Quixote” with the other soloists and the corps. Monique Loudières coached us, and it was truly nice to be in a studio just with her and Muriel. But you don’t know what to expect, when you go on stage with the whole company. It was cool to find out they were happy to have us with them… a new Kitri and a new Basilio. After so many shows, our presence gave them new energy, and their support gave us even more confidence.

Do you feel tired now?

M.Z. I feel better today than on the opening night. I’ve always preferred the final performances…

V.C. We felt so very tired after the first act of our first “Don Quixote”… I was really weary.

M.Z. The energy of the début, you know…

V.C. Sure! Last night, on the contrary, after the second act I felt totally fine and ready for the third act.

The importance of coordination for the lifts…

M.Z. It is indispensable! It is really essential: it is not just up to the boy. The ballerina has literally to work with her partner. She must know her partner very well and adapt her movements to those of her partner. Each partner has different needs: someone wants the ballerina to help, someone else prefers her to be very calm… Vincent, in example, needed me to have a big plié for the lifts.

Vincent, do you prefer a shorter partner?

V.C. Yes, I do. Many colleagues don’t… but I have always preferred to work with a little shorter ballerina. Not just because they are lighter! Different proportions make pirouettes and interaction easier.

And, Muriel, do you prefer to dance with a taller dancer?

M.Z. I do! I don’t think shorter dancer are worse partners, of course. But I prefer taller ones… I like the male dancer to tower a little on his partner. Besides, with a taller partner the portées are higher… and I like it!

Your favorite ballet couple here at the Paris Opéra?

M.Z. It is difficult to mention just one couple… Probably Monique Loudières and Manuel Legris…

V.C. I saw them dancing many times when I was attending the ballet school, I have always admired them. But a younger couple comes to my mind as well, Angès Letestu and José Martinez.