Dorothée Gilbert, principal dancer: “My arabesques were a little stiff, my lines of legs were imperfect”

“This photo was taken during a dance workshop in Nîmes in the summer of 1995. I was about to turn 12. It was the last summer before I entered the Paris Opera dance school in Nanterre, before the change of life. The previous year, I had tried the competition for the first time and failed. With my parents, we had come, light, to pass the tests, going up from Toulouse to the capital: we had seen friends, done shopping the day before, almost arrived late for the competition because the taxi could not find the address …

“The school was demanding. Each year floated the threat of repeating or being excluded, if the level did not follow. “

The second year everything was different. My mother, too stressed, did not accompany me. I slept with my father in a nearby hotel to be in good shape and nearby. Between the two events, I had done a few internships, like the one in photography, but also in La Baule, in Biarritz or at Colette Armand in Marseille, to learn to polish the movements, to be cleaner in the execution, to work on flexibility, on the outside, on the feet. On the day of the competition, at the second attempt, I remember going all the way, doing everything to keep the balance as much as possible, adding a spin …

The Taste of M

When I was received, my parents followed me. I was their only child and they had bad memories of their internship period. They sold the house, sold the business of making work blouses that they had in Toulouse, relaunched themselves in Boulogne, where we lived. The school was demanding. Each year floated the threat of repeating or being excluded, if the level did not follow. Believing to reassure me, my mother said to me: “Don’t worry, my little darling, if you’re fired, we’ll take our suitcases and head back to Toulouse!“What terrified me was unthinkable for me.

“You can read in my eyes, placed on a teacher or another student, the thirst to learn. “

I was not at all a prep school genius. I did not have the physical qualities of some, this flexibility that I did everything to achieve as seen in the image. My arabesques were a little stiff, my leg lines imperfect because of my insufficiently open knees. The qualities that I possessed – coordination, technique, musicality – were things that you hardly notice in school lessons, where you concentrate to perform an irreproachable release, tense or withdrawal.

Read the portrait: Article reserved for our subscribers Dorothée Gilbert, fire and grace

It’s in the second division [en 1999], on the day of the end-of-year show, The Two Pigeons, by Louis Mérante, that things have changed. Several first division dancers being injured, I was auditioned and entrusted with the variation of Gitane Djali, a role that I liked and which resonated with my Spanish origins. I finally had a score to show my technical and artistic potential.

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From there my report cards got better. I had not really changed, but the eyes of the teachers and Claude Bessy [danseuse étoile et longtemps directrice de l’école de danse] on me had moved. This is also what I see in this photo. We read in my eyes, posed on a teacher or another student, the thirst to learn. And my determination, because, even if I was not a beast of competition, I strangely never doubted that I will achieve this dream of becoming a star. “

Don Quixote, by Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa. At the Opéra Bastille, until January 2, 2022.

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Dorothée Gilbert, principal dancer: “My arabesques were a little stiff, my lines of legs were imperfect”

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