Real Talk ith Ballet Master Yannick Boquin


Interview by Armando Braswell

When someone is being interviewed, they always put their best face forward. “Real Talk” is designed to help young dancers and professionals by providing them with the whole truth about the problems faced by artists…on stage and off.

Yannick Boquin is an expert guest ballet master. He trained at the Paris Opera and the National Conservatory of Paris. Boquin was a principle dancer with Bonn Opera Ballet, Royal Ballet of Flanders, Rome Opera Ballet and Deutsche Oper Berlin. He is currently teaching and coaching top companies all over the world.

A few words about giving a warm class as opposed to a full class?

In some companies, not all, they ask me to give a warm up before the performance that is 30 minutes long. I am not a teacher that would just repeat the morning barre. After a day of work and rehearsal the dancers don’t need another full barre. I try to give the barre I would want as a dancer. I give simple exercises so that the dancers aren’t going crazy with steps before the performance. A few tendus. I mix ronds de jambe En l’air and petits battements. I would do ronds de jambe à terre and fondus together. I could do a 20 minute barre and a ten minute center. In center I would combine tendus and pirouettes. I would do a small jete or fondu again with pirouettes. Then I would do a short pirouette combination with en dehors and en dedans. I add in 4 small jumps plus Sissonne and Tours en l’air for the men. I can fit that all into 30 minutes.

Photo by Costin Radu

What makes your ballet class? Is there one thing in particular? A few words about your method?

The best would be to ask dancers this question about me. I use a lot the coordination of the arms. I don’t just work the legs. The back and the epaulement are also very important. I like to think that I concentrate on this more than the average ballet teacher. So many things to work on. There are enough teachers working on the turn-out and high legs.

Common technical issues you recognize in professionals today?

What I miss today are people that are committed to the class. There is too much of this attitude that class is a just a warm up. Too many young dancers there to just “do their job” and nothing more. The dancers are not committed enough. A respect for the class is missing. To me, that is the difference between artists and dancers.

A step you always had trouble with as a dancer?

Double Saut-de-basque. I was too slow with my passe. I worked on it… it didn’t go. To this day, when I see dancers do double Saut-de-basque, I am always so impressed. I wish I knew then, what I know now as a teacher…Everybody says that.

Yannick Boquin in “Proust” Ch. Roland Petit © Kranich

Something you did well as a dancer?

A very soft plie. The critics always spoke of my soft landing. I enjoyed to do petite batterie… I always tried to do that well. I always tried to be aware to have an elegance and quality in my arms also.

Favorite Ballet to dance?

La Sylphide by Peter Schaufuss. Proust by Roland Petit. Proust was a big thing in my career. We did it a lot in Berlin. It is not only technical but you had to have expression. I loved it. Good music also. I also loved to dance the role of Lensky, in Onegin by Cranko.

Teachers who have influenced the way you give class?

Gilbert Mayer, Paris opera Premiere Danseur and Klaus Beelitz, my ballet master in Berlin. I had him for 14 years. His class structure was very good. I would also like to mention Woytek Lowsky and Daniek Franck.

What qualities do you like in a dancer?

I will say this: to support a role you have to a certain level of technique, a minimum. I am not asking for 7 pirouettes or anything like that. More about being clean. Having said that. Musicality is very important and also coordination. I love to see the rules. Seeing fifth is very important in the classical work. Starting and finishing in fifth. I like a dancer that knows what he is doing. Of course physique is important, but you can be very nice without a perfect body. Other qualities can be just as important.

Important things to do at a classical ballet company audition?

I have given a few auditions and I always speak with the director about what they want to see before the audition. The dancers should be well dressed. Nothing too baggy. How fast you learn the steps and show the details of the steps is also important. They want to see your basic technique and coordination. Be awake, ready and motivated.

Yannick Boquin in “Proust” Ch. Roland Petit © Kranich 

One of the hardest things about your job?

Everyday I feel a responsibility to prepare the dancers for their rehearsals as best as I can. Maybe they had a show the night before or are coming back from days off. I have to adapt and it is constantly changing. Harder than that, is dealing with the negativity of dancers. Some come in to the studio with a sour face. Some even change your exercises because what you have prepared is not “good enough”. Or maybe the pianist is not as good as you imagined and that could be very difficult to keep up the energy. The list goes on. I can’t let these things affect me or it will affect my class… I am still working on it.

A few words about creating a good atmosphere in the studio?

The voice has a lot to do with it. The energy that you give. Good attack with a positive voice that lifts up the dancers. Being creative and sometimes working with the pianist to put a smile on the dancers face. Being aware of everyone. Not just the people in the first line. I try to involve everyone in the class. Even if it is a single correction or positive encouragement. I try to be there for everyone. I also take the time to study everyone’s name. I do my homework. That is important.

The last performance you saw?

At the Bolshoi. “Lost Illusion” by Alexei Ratmansky. It was very nice. Set, costumes and decor all beautiful. The dancers were great. A very nice evening.

Something you like to do other than ballet?

Fishing. I love fishing. My family had a fishing supplies store when I was growing up. I used to fish all the time. No matter what problems you have, when you fish it all goes away. Even if you don’t catch a fish, there is still the hope that you will get one.

A piece of advice for aspiring artists?

I don’t know everything of course. Start the barre well. Be passionate. Love what you are doing. You have to be responsible. Give 200%. Keep your curiosity. Speak and learn from the pianist. Each step counts. Each day counts.