Kader Belarbi is a former Principal Dancer at the Opéra de Paris, where he worked for 33 years. He is also an accomplished choreographer and the creator of more than 40 ballets. He has been Director of Dance and choreographer at the Ballet du Capitole since 2012. He kindly agreed to answer my questions by email – here is the English version of the interview. Click here to read the original French version.
Of the ballets you have created for the Ballet du Capitole, which is your favourite and why?
I don’t have a preference because every choreographic adventure is such an individual story. Each one brings together many people on the artistic side as well as on the technical side. In the end, it’s always a human adventure. Personally, I see each ballet as so unique, it’s impossible to compare them, or to state a preference.
How do you work with the dancers and ballet masters to create new pieces?
As the choreographer, I act or react to a danced gesture:
Either with a suggestion of my own, because I have imagined and written a choreographic phrase beforehand. That choreographic phrase is then shared, worked on, and adjusted directly in the studio with the dancer or dancers, under the watchful eye of the ballet master or masters.
Or, in the case of a revival of a pre-existing choreography, the dance is first reassembled and adjusted by the ballet masters. I only intervene once that has been done, to put the final touches on the technical, aesthetic and stylistic aspects of the piece, without forgetting the meaning and the emotions.
As Director, I sometimes invite another choreographer to come to work on a ballet that is being either revived or created. I allow the visiting choreographer to select the dancers he or she wishes to work with. The ballet masters become the choreographer’s assistants. As for me, I accompany this working process, but from a distance, and I communicate closely with the choreographer until the show’s Première.
What have you changed at the Ballet since your arrival in 2012? Are there things you still want to change?
Season by season, I am endowing the Ballet du Capitole with a new repertoire, which is vitally important for both the dancers and the audience. In each dancer I seek, indeed expect, an open mind and the motivation and physical capacity to master all the techniques of dance – this allows the company to attract visiting choreographers. Every season I try to expand our repertoire. First of all, priority is given to the city of Toulouse with its many venues, such as the Théâtre du Capitole, the Halle aux Grains, the Eglise Saint-Pierre-des-Cuisines, the Théâtre Garonne, the Théâtre National de Toulouse… Our regional presence is growing, as is the number of our national and international tours, demonstrating the activity, the vitality and the geographical reach of the Ballet du Capitole. Cultural exchange is very important. I offer members of the public access to free events, such as ‘Carnets de Danse’, where they can watch dance excerpts and take part in discussions with the artists. Public classes and rehearsals give people direct contact with the dancers’ work; it’s a way of opening up the ‘dance factory’. ‘Osons Danser!’ is a choreographic workshop that allows anyone to become the choreographer of their own movement and to share it with others. These workshops form a very beautiful bridge between the Ballet du Capitole and people who are curious about and lovers of dance. I consider the dance show itself to be a key moment, but the performance alone isn’t enough – in order to exist fully, it has to take place within a context of openness to everybody.
I want to continue the demystification of an Opera House with its velvet and gilding, as well as dismantling the prejudice that still resonates today around the word Ballet. The Ballet du Capitole is not a showcase of the past. Put simply, it is a living Ballet of today.
There are people who think there are too many imposed limits and resistance to change in dance in France compared to other countries. Do you think this is true?
All types of dance have flourished in France since the 1980’s. The limits you are talking about are maybe linked to forms of dance that sometimes struggle to fully exist, for example Jazz dance. On the other hand, Hip-Hop is represented in France’s National Choreographic Centres. Big decisions, and sometimes fashion, open and close doors. Overall, dance is very active and dynamic in France.
As choreographer and Director of Dance at the Ballet du Capitole, can you take all the ‘risks’ you want with contemporary dance?
I am not the guardian of a temple or the caretaker of a chapel. I believe in a concerted openness. All my work and future plans are inspired only by the idea of a free spirit and body, not by division, or by a set style that would confine the dance or the dancers. That is the goal of any true dancer and of the Ballet of today. I am able to move forward as my dancers grow and develop – they are the key to producing a range of aesthetics, which can be familiar or challenging.
How did you find your voice in choreography? What are your inspirations?
After many long years spent meticulously forging myself as a dancer, I felt the need to turn to others. I wanted to convey what I felt while dancing, which was sometimes different to what had been asked of me. I’ve always sensed the presence of the creator through the performer. To have the privilege to awaken another person’s spirit and body, so that he or she truly owns each movement, is a very emotional experience. Also, I am hugely interested in the writing of choreography to create dance that is rich in ideas or themes. The exchange in the studio with the dancers remains an important and special moment, that of a living gesture in its relation to the world.
Everything inspires me: an image, a sound, an emotion, a thought, a colour… to share or to create!
What qualities are you looking for when you recruit new dancers?
Receptiveness and humanity. Curiosity and hard work. Suggestion and emotion.
What are the advantages of having dancers from all over the world?
The 14 current nationalities of the Ballet du Capitole’s 35 dancers bring an extraordinary wealth of values, tones, contrasts, colours, connections, compositions, emptiness and completeness, and many other elements that are simply the ingredients of a painter in front of his canvas. This is how I conceive and work with dance and my dancers.
I would like to be a choreographer later. What advice could you give me?
You’ll require observation and patience, love for others and a real need to record and inscribe emotions through a process of exchange with one or more other people. You need to be able to explore your own inner self and to learn from everything around you. You have to be able to communicate and clarify. Truth be told, steps are important but they are of no importance!
Do you think it is useful to have experience abroad?
Yes and no! Curiosity and authenticity should always be your main channels and should govern your work. Narrow or wide experience, it doesn’t matter! We all have a world of experience within ourselves that we can express to others.
Thank you again to Kader Belarbi for taking the time to answer my questions. Click here for more information about his role at the Ballet du Capitole.