7 March 2001 - For several years now, Emmanuel Thibault has
dazzled public and critics, both on stage and in the yearly contest
for promotion to the rank of Premier Danseur.
1998, because of his superlative style and grace, he was noticed by
many dance specialists, but although there was a post available, no
appointment was made, possibly because Thibault was, and looked, very
The following year, he was quite simply fabulous in
The Four Seasons, choreography by Jerome Robbins, who had
chosen him to create this work at the Opera, but under strain,
stumbled during the imposed variation from La Bayadère,
a role which didn't suit his shy, elfin charm. The post was given to
Benjamin Pech who didn't slip.
Thibault in The Blue Bird
Up until this point, one
could find reasons why the promotion had not been made, but last year
after a flawless performance, Thibault was ranked first by all the
critics. And it was not surprising for almost alone of all the opera
dancers, étoiles included, he possesses this extraordinary
''ballon", that elusive quality of appearing to hover in the air
when he jumps. The eminent French specialist René Sirven only
recently compared Thibault to Nijinsky because of his high, effortless
leaps and soft, silent landings. ( In the recent re-staging of Paquita,
Thibault triumphed as soloist in the pas de trois danced by Nijinsky
in 1907). He was in a sphere of his own. Yet no promotion was made.
Was Monsieur Thibault being punished for some secret
vice we don't know about, like smoking on the sly in the lavatory? Or
does he play cards in his dressing-room?
Thibault in The Four Seasons
Two posts of Premier Danseur
were available this time round, and the performance in February,
sublime, of Emmanuel Thibault left no doubts at all that one of them
was his. In the imposed variation, surprisingly again from La
Bayadère, he soared through the air in a superb
demonstration of what dance is all about. No wonder the public love
him. This time, he had nothing to lose, for rumours had gone out
months ago that even should he dance like Nureyev, Vasiliev and
Baryshnikov rolled into one, he was not to be promoted. And so he was
not . Star for the day, but not the winner.
The jury, led by
Mr. Hugues R. Gall, director of the Paris National Opera, and composed
of Brigitte Lefèvre, director of Dance, Patrice Bart, ballet
master, eight members of the company, and Elisabetta Terabust,* ranked
him third. First and second place, and consequently, the promotions to
Premier Danseur went to Jeremy Bélingard, also a crowd-pleaser,
and the tall, pleasant looking Karl Paquette, certainly a bittersweet
victory for the latter.
What is happening at the Paris Opera
ballet where dance alone should be king? There was a time when this
competition gave every dancer their chance. Is it now being turned
into a beauty competition where only those resembling a stereotyped
story-book image of a prince can pass? Or must dancers grovel at the
feet of a bunch of civil servants and beg ? This wilful and systematic
blockage of such a unique artist as Thibault puts not only the whole
concept of a "competition" into question, but strikes a blow
at the very foundations of the company.
Thibault as The Golden Idol, La Bayadère
After this frankly shocking
result, I asked jury member Nicolas Le Riche to explain what had
happened, and who had voted for whom. "There is a rule of secrecy",
he said, "and I am not allowed to reply to that question. All I
can tell you is that it is very hard to be on the jury and obliged to
choose. It's as if you had to vote for the best composer between
Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart, and Emmanuel Thibault was
It would have been more correct to have
commented that what we saw then, was Mozart in a sea of Salieris.
Fortunately, the women were given a fair deal, and a place
of Première Danseuse was awarded to the very lovely Eleonora
Terabust was director of La Scala Ballet, 1993 - 96, and is actually
in charge of the Florence Opera School.
articles: An Interview with
writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The
Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus
documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for