I was lucky to be able to speak to the Ballet’s two ballet masters, Vietnamese Minh Pham and French Emmanuelle Broncin. These interviews were intriguingly different, as you will see.
First I spoke to Minh: “What is your role exactly as ballet master?” He explained to me that he runs the classes, the rehearsals, and assembles ballets as the choreographer’s assistant. And how does he motivate the dancers? “It’s complicated! There isn’t a method, you just have to sense how they are feeling every day: whether they need pushing more, or if they’re tired and they need to go more slowly.” He tells me the most difficult part of his job is in fact motivating the dancers, and his favourite part is exploring specific roles in the ballet and developing the story’s characters with the dancers. I asked him which of this season’s pieces he prefers, to which he answered that ‘Giselle’ has always been one of his favourites. “But I absolutely love both classical and contemporary, you really can’t compare them!”
Wanting to know more about how he works with the choreographer, I asked Minh whether he participates in the creation of the choreography, and if he’s allowed to change it while rehearsing. “If the choreographer asks for it, I can give my advice. But I can’t change the piece, only the choreographer can do that. He can say to me ‘If there is a problem, you can do this or that’, but I don’t change it, I adapt it.”
After watching a few classes, I was intrigued as to how the ballet master works so easily with the pianist, Raul Rodriguez Bey. “It’s often the pianist who gives the motivation. If he’s tired, for example, you can immediately feel it. It’s the music that gives the emotions!” He explained to me that neither him nor the pianist ever prepare the classes: Minh improvises the exercises according to the dancers’ level of fatigue, and gives the pianist the tempo, sometimes the rhythm he needs. The musician then plays whichever piece he thinks suits the exercise best.
“When I’m giving the exercises, it’s the musician, and the dancers who inspire me. If I prepare something too difficult in advance, the dancers will feel it and won’t dance as well.”
Later in the week, I spoke to Emmanuelle. Again, I asked her what her role as ballet master is exactly: “I am the teacher, the coach and the choreographer’s assistant.” The most challenging part of her job is her role as the intermediary between the Director and the dancers.
And her favourite piece this season? “Probably Don Quichotte, as we are going to be creating. I love the creating process!” I also asked her about working with the choreographer and what she is allowed to do. “Yes, I definitely participate in the choreography. I can help the choreographer if he needs more ideas, and I can help him to iron out any imperfections, or to add things.” And can she change the choreography? “Of course! We can change it if something isn’t working, it’s teamwork!”
As she has danced all over the world, I asked her: “What are the differences in dance between France and other countries?” Interestingly, Emmanuelle told me there isn’t any difference in dance. There are different cultures, different working hours… But not differences in dance.