Vive La France

26 Jul

San Francisco Ballet’s 2013-2014 roster includes a new principal dancer of French background; Mathilde Froustey.  Reading her background, and the fact she earned a gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition in 2004 reminded me of Muriel Maffre, now executive director of The Museum of Performance and Design, who came with a similar medal from the first Paris International Ballet Competition directed by Cyril La Faure. Said competition lapsed when La Faure retired.

From 1985, when Helgi Tomasson assumed San Francisco Ballet’s artistic directorship, there has been a periodic welcome mat to feminine dancers, French trained.  Pascale Le Roy was the first; she segued briefly into Smuin Ballet as I remember, but has continued to make her mark as one of San Francisco Ballet School’s teachers, as Mrs. Stahlbaum in the annual Nutcracker production. More recently she created the role of the dance mistress, Mme Mansard, in “Cinderella,”  mansard being the name of a type of handsome building roof. Mansard’s character, seen briefly, never quite manages that, but Le Roy belongs to another location in a building, the bearing wall perhaps.  And I had better stop this train of irrelevant connections!

The next dancer was Karen Averty who danced perhaps two seasons before returning to Paris to complete her performing career.  She was one of the early Odette-Odiles in the Tomasson version of the Petipa-Ivanov-Tchaikovsky classic.

Then came La Maffre as a quite young principal.  I still remember her initial season when she danced “Swan Lake” with Yuri Zhukov, products/exponents of two great schools of classical ballet, Paris and now again St. Petersburg.  I not so much remember the dancing as the two of them taking their curtain calls to vociferous applause – their schooling, their bowing  response  to the audience and to each other I found intoxicating.  I remember Maffre in a number of other things, of course, but that was the forerunner of what we enjoyed of her dancing for nearly two decades.

We got Sofiane Sylve first as a guest principal and the following fall as a full-fledged member of the company.  She can be sweetly maternal as the Sugar Plum Fairy in”The Nutcracker”; steel “In The Middle Somewhat Elevated”; sublime in “Symphony in C’s” second movement in the bucolic distraction of Stern Grove, for which she received an Izzie for individual performance.

Froustey enjoys some formidable performing credits, but I just wanted to mention her countrywomen predecessors, such a  formidable roster.  We are richer for their distinction and I trust Froustey will simply add her only polish to that luster.


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