When I was a kid, I liked to play in front of the mirror. I would copy scenes from a movie or I would invent some story in my head. I always did love being the heroine in very romantic love stories or to put myself in dramatic situations. I was creating my own dream world, in which I could be someone else.
Around this same period, I had the chance to be chosen, to be part of the casting for some publicity spots for TV. It was the advertisement for make-up toy boxes for little girls. It was such a great experience for me and I had so much fun playing in front of the cameras. It felt like the best game you can play. But still, I remember very clearly the last day of the filming, when one of the producers of the spot came to talk to me saying that I was great in front of the cameras, and then asked me, if I wanted to become an actress one day. Well… my answer came really fast and clear: “No! I’m going to be a ballerina!”
Exactly a year later, as I was nine, I was finally able to start taking ballet classes, since a friend of this same producer had opened a private ballet school in my little home town. And of course, I was the first one writing my name on the list of students.
During the next years, I was very busy and concentrated on my dancing, trying to learn and progress as much and as fast as I could. For me, from the first day that I hold myself at the barre, I felt that I was realizing my dream of becoming a real ballerina. And nothing or nobody could stop me on my way and dedication.
But it was several years later, when I was 18 years old and in my second Ballet Company, “Le Ballet National de Marseille Roland Petit”, that I discovered the ballet world that I had always desired and dreamed about, without even knowing it: the world of the interpretation.
And I also found the real meaning of ballet; since ballet is before anything an art.
I was arriving to Marseille from the Victor Ullate Company in Spain, where I had the opportunity to perform in mostly abstract and short pieces. So for me, this was a huge step, since I was hired by Roland Petit as a Principal Dancer, to perform in all of his very dramatic pieces, which were always created for more mature and experienced ballerinas, like for example Dominique Kalfhouni. The first role I got marked the beginning of my artistic career. I had to perform Esmeralda in his mythic ballet “Notre Dame de Paris”, and beside the famous Paris Opera Etoile, Patrick Dupond. Still now, when I think about it, I wonder where I found the courage to assume such a challenge. I guess that I just didn’t allow myself to think about it and I put my mind only into the work, trying to absorb as much as I could from the wonderful ballet master we had in Marseille, Norbert Schmucky. He was the one guiding me, giving me the clues and the lines to follow, but always allowing me to find my own interpretation.
It took me just one role, one ballet, to fall completely in love with this world of interpretation. It was all so new and exciting. I realized that I could become someone else and live experiences which are impossible in the real world. But instead of doing it in front of a mirror, I was allowed to do it on stage. And mostly I discovered that it was what I really wanted to do for the rest of my career.
After Esmeralda, there were many more roles following, some very dramatic and sensual like Carmen, or others lighter and funnier like Coppelia. But something had changed in me. I just didn’t want to only perform the steps and the choreography any more. I needed to act, to feel and to give a reason to every single movement I would do on stage. The artistic meaning of the role I had to perform would become my inspiration.
His ballets were the best school an artist can ever have. In most of them there are moments where it all depends on your interpretation, your way of walking, looking at someone or just standing without any movement, but still making it full of life, feelings and emotions.
During the years later, after changing companies, first to the San Francisco Ballet and then to the Bayerisches Staatsballett, I’ve been able to use everything I learned with Roland Petit and develop it in any kind of choreographies and styles. Bringing a role to life has become the most important part of my work. It’s my real passion. I feel so lucky to be able to be part of these wonderful stories, full of love, passion, disloyalty, pain, happiness, desperation, and all those emotions that we try to control and hide in real life.
On stage you can let them all out, and also transport them and share them with the public.
Few years ago I did an interview in Japan, together with Roland Petit, in which we were talking about those first years in Marseille, and I was really touched hearing what Roland said about me. He explained that when I arrived to Marseille, I was this young girl with no experience, but that he could feel that I had a strong will and personality. So he trusted me, and his own feelings, by giving me roles that were way above my experience. And because of this, he discovered that I had these natural artistic fibers that would make me play the roles in the right way, without having any personal experiences I could use as a base for creating them.
He said that then, I was a child with the natural instinct to play the part of the most mature, sensual, strong, or even cruel woman. And that now, few years later, I didn’t need to act anymore; I just needed to be myself.
Many times I’ve been asked how I manage to play those roles. Well, the truth is that I don’t play them, I live them.
You need to live your own live fully to be able to discover all those feelings and emotions, that you bring on stage then. The thing is that you cannot invent or fake an emotion. It has to be real, you have to really feel it, or nobody will feel it with you. The stage is the mirror of who you are. For achieving this I always try to put myself inside the skin of the role I have to play. I try to find as much information as possible, ideally through a book of the piece, about her personality and character, and then I put myself in her situation, and think; “What would I do, or how would I react if this was happening to me?”
For me it’s such an enjoyfull process. More and more, I’m attracted to extreme dramatic roles that allow me to let go completely of my emotions on stage. So much, that at the end of the performances I feel emotionally empty.
There are few ballets that make me especially feel in this way. The first one was of course “Notre Dame de Paris”, the one that opened my eyes and my heart to this world. And then there are master pieces like “Othello” by Lar Lubovitch, the wonderful “Die Kameliendame” of John Neumeier and of course the mythic “Romeo and Juliet” and mostly “Onegin” by John Cranko.
As ballet dancer and artists we are privileged to be able to be part of such wonderful stories. And I believe that our role in this world is to tell these stories to the public, so through our emotions we can make them travel to a different world every night – a world full of beauty, magic and feelings that for a couple of hours will make them forget about the cold and difficult real world.
“I believe that our gift is to share with them all our stories”
wrote this Column for our Spring issue 2008