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Fluently in Two Languages
An Interview with Christophe Maraval, Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
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.
brought you to the United States initially? Please describe your journey
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
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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