To her mind, that’s what dancing is – making the audience dream and evade from everyday problems. The beautiful First Soloist at the Paris Opera Ballet, after all, has always wanted to be a ballerina to go on stage and tell stories. Here she explains what it’s like to face internal competitions and reverting to who she is when dancing, and why she always tries to be optimistic.
Interview by Alessandro Bizzotto
As I am waiting for her at the Palais Garnier in a cloudy early Parisian afternoon, I try to focus on the best memories I have of watching Muriel Zusperreguy dancing. I find out they are quite a lot – from Olga in “Onegin” last season, when I saw her in that role for the second time, to the lead in Kylián’s “Bella Figura”. And then there are the great classics, such as Kitri in “Don Quixote” and Lise in Ashton’s “La Fille Mal Gardée”. It has always been a joy to watch her performing, due to a complex mix of factors – her French technique, of course, her keen musicality, her radiant beauty and a particular sensibility that combines creative desire and eagerness to tell the truth.
As she reaches me, Muriel Zusperreguy doesn’t look tired nor stressed although she is wearing dance clothes and it is easy to guess she is just out of a rehearsal. “It’s been quite a while” she says, “how are you?” and she smiles lightly as she takes a seat.
She has been a First Soloist, or “Première danseuse” as the French would say, at the Paris Opera Ballet since the beginning of 2008. And she is one of the most interesting female dancers of the French company, someone who has always shown uncommon talent dancing ballets by Robbins, Balanchine, Forsythe, Mats Ek, Pina Bausch and of course Kylián, just to mention a few.
As one of my favourite ballerinas composedly sits down, a performance of “La Source” suddenly comes to my mind. It was some seasons ago, Muriel was dancing Naïla, the title role, and, when her Act 2 variation started, it seemed as if the entire Palais Garnier stopped breathing just to watch. That’s it, I think – beneath her fresh, lively attitude lies the finest all-round entertainer, a delicate and gorgeous “bête de scène”.
How old were you when you left the Basque Country to come to Paris?
I was ten. At that time every student had to attend a six-month stage before having the chance to take part in the competition to be admitted to the Paris Opera Ballet School.
Was it tough?
Very. So tough! I was just a little girl. My family was far away from me, my little brother was far away as well, I lived in a boarding-school – my life was turned upside down. I cried a lot during the first months, my mother came to Paris to be with me every weekend… and there was no TGV, so she used to get the overnight train.
Can you remember your first day as a member of the corps de ballet here?
I do. I felt relief – I was not a student anymore, at last I was a professional dancer and I had the chance to go on stage and dance. I felt free. The training was over, and I could wear beautiful costumes and do the job I wanted to do – my life as a dancer was beginning. I felt so motivated!
Once you told me that, the year you got promoted to First Soloist, you decided that would be the last internal competition you wanted to take part in, whatever the result.
I did, that’s true.
I was honestly tired of them. Preparing two variations for those competitions is not easy, the atmosphere is always very tense, all the dancers are so stressed. After getting promoted to Sujet [Soloist, ed], I tried several annual competitions and I was always well placed but…