Becoming Myrtha

Alessandro Bizzotto follows Valentine Colasante through dressing rooms, passages, make-up and hairstyle studios and the Foyer de la danse of the Palais Garnier. To find out how she gets ready to play the fierce queen of the Wilis in Giselle. An informal chat with the lovely première danseuse at the Paris Opéra Ballet. That shows us the backstage of (her) performance.

She is not stressed at all. Or, at least, she doesn’t look so. In her dressing room at the Palais Garnier, flooded with light and soft colors, Valentine Colasante talks to me with a luminous smile. Tonight she is dancing Myrtha, the merciless queen of the Wilis, ethereal men’s killer ghosts, in Giselle.

Du samedi 28 mai 2016 au mardi 14 juin 2016

“I am not nervous,” she tells me. “I might have been slightly tense before the opening night, last week. However, I feel totally calm now. It is almost three hours to the beginning of the show. And, as Myrtha, I have the whole first act off: further time to concentrate and warm up.”

She will start to get ready for the show in a few minutes. As we chat, she is slowly sewing a pointe shoe. “I normally do it here in my dressing room, or at home, watching a movie.”

Valentine won her last and most important annual competition, at the Paris Opera Ballet, just a few years ago: at 23, she was promoted to première danseuse. This season has been filled with important debuts for her, from the leading role in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations to Gamzatti in La Bayadère.

It is not yet five o’clock when we stand up and leave her dressing room. Her white, winged dress is hanged just out of the door.

“I’ll start whitening my neck and arms,” Valentine explains me while we walk along a long passage, “then just the first part of the make-up. You’ll see…”

The make-up room, when we enter, is almost empty. “Look at how white I will turn now!” she smiles. A make-up artist applies an extremely light base on Valentine’s neck and shoulders and arms. The atmosphere is friendly, relaxed.

Just a few dancers from the corps are already in the room. I can have a seat close to Valentine, so, as she begins having her face make-up done. “Sometimes I like to make-up on my own,” she tells me, “but, in order to become Myrtha, they have to transform me a little. My face will look much more severe in the end… and even a bit older, somehow.”

“Another villain role this season, a few months after Gamzatti…” she says. I clearly remember her brilliant technique and her glittering stage presence as the fierce princess in La Bayadère. “Myrtha is different, of course,” she explains. “Many jumps. But, at the end of the day, less chances to miss something. Whereas, as Gamzatti, you can make mistakes… anytime!”

After the base, it is about her eyes. That start being subtly defined. “I will even apply false eyelashes, later on” she explains as she shows them to me.

It seems it is not a problem for her to talk during the make-up. “My nature is easy going,” Valentine explains. “When working I am serious, really dedicated, but I don’t like to create problems or make dramas. I am not quarrelsome: in a studio I need positiveness and concentration.”

She stands up and she catches Myrtha’s crown. “Time for the coiffeur, now,” she tells me, inviting me to follow her. “We’ll be back later: in order to finish my make-up, they need me to have my hairstyle completely done.” The hairstyle studio looks quite crowded. As she takes a seat in front of the mirror, Valentine points at her ears. “They did not covered them with the white base. Now they are about to hide my ears with my hair: in a few minutes my hairstylist will be framing my face with my hair.”

Valentine Colasante © Svetlana Loboff

As waves of hair start being moved to frame Valentine Colasante’s face, we go on chatting. “I don’t read reviews that much,” she reveals to me. “I don’t look for them. Sometimes it is interesting to read something on our shows. But I wonder how I would feel if I read a bad review on a performance of mine while still having some shows to do.”

It is (almost) all about personal tastes, we agree. “That’s so true!” she exclaims. “Many things are in the eye of the beholder. Everywhere. In ballet as well: I met people crazily in love with an artist and people that hated the same artist’s way of performing.”

“I like turning, doing three or four pirouettes on stage, to give an example…” she adds, “but that’s not my ultimate goal. You can appreciate the technique, but beneath that lies the heart, the soul of a dancer: I hope my audience appreciates my personality, my honesty as well on stage.”

Myrtha’s crown is put on her hair. “The Statue of Liberty”, she jokes. We both laugh. Then, as hairspray fills the air, her hairstyle is ready after about half an hour.

We are about to leave and get back to the make-up studio when we meet première danseuse Stéphanie Romberg. She is going to be princess Bathilde tonight. “I have been working on almost all my roles under her guidance for the last two years,” Valentine tells me. A quick chat, then it is time for make-up again.

The studio is filled with people and voices, now. “My favorite role so far?” she answers me. “No doubt: Kitri in Don Quijote. I have been dreaming about dancing it since when I was a little girl”.

More eyeliner is applied. Then the false eyelashes. Valentine scrutinizes herself in the mirror. Her youthful beauty is more imperious, almost threatening.

“Let’s go to choose my pointe shoes for tonight,” she tells me as we say good-bye to the make-up artists. She leads me to the Foyer de la danse, the sumptuous – thought a little dark and dusty – hall behind the stage, reserved for dancers preparing for performances. “I am going to try on my pointe shoes and to warm up a little there.”

She looks concentrate, but yet serene. “I don’t want to be totally swallowed by ballet,” she tells me. “I love my job. But I try to keep a balance in my life. My boyfriend, just as an example, has nothing to do with ballet: we seldom talk about steps or performances. He helps me to leave everything behind me, when I knock off, and to experience real life in some way. And, as a consequence, to have something more to give to the audience when I get back here.”

The Foyer de la danse is empty and silent. “In less than half an hour many people will fill the Foyer,” Valentine explains me as she sits on the floor and takes some pairs of pointe shoes out of her bag.

She tries them on, one after the other. She keeps silent for a few minutes. “These ones!” she tells me then. “The ones I marked with number 5. My lucky number!”

She stretches a little. “I will have time to warm up properly when the first act begins. The Foyer will be empty: during the first act I’ll wear my earphones listening to my music, alone, and will do some barre and warm-up exercises”.

It is almost time for me to reach the stalls of the Palais Garnier and take my seat to see Giselle.

Valentine brings me on stage. The curtain is down, the set ready. Then, as dancers start crowding into the Foyer de la danse, she shows me the way out. “It won’t take that long!”

“I’ll have time to eat something,” she says, leading me to an elevator. “Then the barre”.

I don’t wish her good luck, of course. Just “Merde”. “And I shouldn’t thank you!” she answers smiling, while the elevator doors close slowly.

This Interview was published Spring 2016 in Dance for You Magazine printed issue