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Dancing Fluently in Two Languages

An Interview with Christophe Maraval, Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

January 2004

We met with Mr. Maraval while he was on a break from rehearsing and preparing for Pacific Northwest Balletís early Winter 2004 repertory program, the "Balanchine Centenary." What follows is an edited transcription of our delightful conversation.

How did you become interested in ballet?

Iím from a small town out in the middle of nowhere in France called Castre, and so had not had much exposure to ballet. When I was eleven, I went to go see a cousin in a performance at a local school. Later, I saw Patrick Dupond, who was fresh from performing with the Paris Opera Ballet, and his dancing just blew me away, and I decided then, "Thatís what I want to do!"

I took classes for a year from a local teacher who thought I had talent and encouraged me to go on to a major ballet school. From 13 to 15, I studied at Conservatoire National Superieure de Musique et de Danse in Paris. During my second year in the school, my teacher encouraged me to enter a ballet competition -- and I won! Little did I know that he and the schoolís administration did not agree about my being in a competition -- partly due to the fact that I won -- and I was laid off from CNSM.

However, luck was on my side, as I had been seen by Pierre Lacotte and was offered a contract to perform with the company he was directing, Ballet National de Nancy. And so got my first professional contract when I was sixteen. I thought I was a little young but Lacotte thought I was ready. It ended up being a really great place for me, as we did a lot of Balanchine ballets plus many historic ballets that Lacotte had reconstructed. Some of these old ballets were famous and others were ones that practically no one has ever heard of!

What was the training like at CNSM?

I was very fortunate during my time there to have some very excellent teachers, all of whom had POB backgrounds. These included Cyril Atanassoff, Atilio Labis, Jean Guizerix. I also got to work with Violette Verdy while I was, for a short time, at POB myself.

The director of CNSM, Quentin Rouiller, is very keen on making the education of the students as broad as possible and has made some curriculum changes. He is really trying to make a full curriculum. He wants the students to be able not only to dance ballet but also to be prepared for any company they may want to get into. During my first year I took music, history of dance, and later also Benesh notation and contemporary (modern) dance.

Men took classes separately from the women and the only times we would have mixed class would be for pas de deux. Class size was about 20 for each of the menís and womenís groups.

What are some of the differences that you have observed between ballet in Europe and here in the States?

Styles are different as well as technique. In Europe, while we certainly do use technique, we often focus more on artistry and less on technique. Tricks are not as important as they are here.

What brought you to the United States initially? Please describe your journey to PNB.

I spent six years in Nancy and was starting to look for a change, as I was doing essentially the same repertory over and over. I thought if I had to do one more Giselle.... Anyway, I moved to Toulouse and performed there and enjoyed it as the company, directed by Nanette Glushak, had Balanchine ballets. While in Toulouse, Terry Orr came to stage Agnes de Milleís "Rodeo" on us and he recommended me to Victoria Morgan of the Cincinnati Ballet. She took me sight unseen, as she said she completely trusted Orrís recommendation! I was in Cincinnati for three years.

During this time, I saw Pacific Northwest Ballet and was very impressed and thought it was a company that Iíd like to be a part of, and I joined PNB in 1998.

What is your approach in learning roles?

I like to know what the ballet is going to look like overall, hopefully in advance. For story ballets, I like to find motivation behind the steps.

What are some of the ballets during this yearís season that you have particularly enjoyed dancing or are looking forward to doing?

Certainly the Balanchine repertory program coming up. Iím doing the 2nd movement pas de deux with Louise Nadeau in the "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet," which is glorious; in "Agon" Iím doing the second pas de trois with Kaori Nakamura and Oleg Gorboulev and the also the pas de deux with Ariana Lallone. Later in the year, Carmina will be fun -- I have never even seen this version -- and "Midsummer" at the conclusion of the season.

I like the PNB repertory very much. I know Kent and Francia work hard to try to please a lot of people! They try to find roles for everyone that will be suited to each dancer. Both have been very supportive of me as Iíve been working to get to fully dancing following a couple of knee injuries.

Please tell us about your family and any hobbies or pets you may have.

My wife, Odile, and I have been married for 8 years. She is not a dancer! We met in Nancy where she owned a drugstore. We have a nutty cat by the name of "Cachou!" Odile and I have a normal life. Itís great to be able to come home to someone who shares my culture and language. I have to say that my English was initially bad and still is, but it's fairly good now and am learning more all the time.

I sometimes guest teach for a ballet school in Vancouver, Washington -- the Columbia Dance Ensemble -- where I give technique and sometimes pas de deux. I enjoy it.

As Iíve gotten older, I try not to plan my life so much and look forward to things just happening!

Edited by Lori Ibay

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