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Société Auguste Vestris - Gustave Ricaux
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14 novembre 2010, huitième soirée : Gustave Ricaux

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Ricaux, my Master
Ricaux e la Scuola Italiana
Ricaux et l’Ecole italienne
Ricaux and the Italian School
Gustave Ricaux
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Perché Ricaux a Roma?
Souvenirs de Gustave Ricaux
A recollection of Gustave Ricaux
Ricordi di Gustave Ricaux

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Gustave Ricaux
by Pierre Lacotte

14 November 2010

Printable version / Version imprimable   |  565 visits / visites

Paris, 23rd October 2010

The most illustrious teacher of men of which France can boast in the 20th Century was beyond any doubt, Gustave Ricaux.

Born on 20th August 1884 at Paris, Gustave Ricaux entered the Paris Opera School on 9th March 1896. In 1898, he entered the Opera’s corps de ballet as 2ème quadrille and became grand sujet in 1901. Appointed premier danseur in 1907 (the title of étoile had not yet been instituted), he made his début in La Maladetta, a ballet by Joseph Hansen, his partner being Carlotta Zambelli.

A superb technician, his success was enormous, despite the fact that male dancers had somewhat fallen out of favour in France! From 1911 to 1914 he toured throughout Europe, dancing in England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Austria before finally travelling to America.

Mobilised from 1914 to 1919, he turned to the Opera after the Great War. There, in addition to pursuing his dancing career, he was appointed teacher for the men.

In 1921 Gustave Ricaux danced in the reprise of Fokine’s Daphnis et Chloé, when the choreographer staged it at the Opera, and in the reprise of Namouna in a new version by Léo Staats that he danced with Aida Boni in 1925.

When Leo Staats’ Soir de Fête was first danced, it was Ricaux who was chosen to partner Olga Spessivtseva, and he partnered her again in Giselle from 1926 on.

He danced the leads in La Korrigane by Louis Mérante with Carlotta Zambelli, in Le Diable dans le Beffroi by Nicola Guerra with Camille Bos, in Suite de Danses by Ivan Clustine and in Siang Sing by Léo Staats. He danced La Fête chez Thérèse with Carlotta Zambelli, the role of Orion in Sylvia ... Gustave Ricaux’s virtuosity created a sensation in the divertissements of operas such as Roméo et Juliette, Le Trouvère, Padmavati, Henri VIII, Patrie and Salammbô.

An exceptional teacher, with a great gift for pedagogy, as soon as he retired from the stage in 1931 he was appointed head of teaching for boys in the Opera School. There, he trained and followed the career of every male dancer in the Opera, since he was the one and only teacher for men. In the morning, he gave two lessons – one for the quadrilles and coryphées, the other for sujets, premiers danseurs and étoiles. Nothing in the world would have made us miss one of those lessons. In the afternoon, after teaching in the School, he went home, where he had a studio, and after rehearsals we all rushed over to continue working with him.

I still recall the perfect silence that reigned in his class. Concentrated, attentive, we strained our ears to pick up his every remark; no-one, from the littlest to the eldest boy, dared be obstreperous. Even as adults, if, by some mischance we happened to be late for class, we were forbidden to and join the class and take our place at the barre: « Sit right there on the bench! Watch other’s mistakes, and you’ll get a better sense of your own. And a better view of the progress of the boys who really work! ». No excuse would wash, nor we allowed to sign the attendance sheet.

JPEG

Pierre Lacotte, élève de Ricaux à l’Ecole de l’Opéra
Collection particulière

It was with Ricaux that I took my first lesson, and I remember it as distinctly as though it were yesterday. His rigour impressed me, but I was no less aware of the eloquence of his every movement. Full of humble admiration, I tried to follow what he had demonstrated, clumsily no doubt, because I sensed all round me the bigger boys all-too-ready to poke fun at my mistakes. His wife though took pity on me – she too had been a dancer – and far more patiently than her husband, corrected my arm position. I was struck by the beauty of her explanation as to how one raised the arms above the head en couronne, and stared raptly at her. I learnt the proper arm and leg positions, and two or three exercises. I was only eight years old, and that was enough for an initial contact. Need one add that every evening, I would run it all through in my mind in order to retain it.

For two years, I worked nose-to-the-grindstone daily. I realised that I was in the hands of a great scientist of the dance; it was stimulating to be surrounded by all his pupils, who stood in awe of him, and I knew I was terribly lucky to have found a teacher who was truly a master! I felt I should have to work very hard not to disappoint him, and live up to expectations.

The children danced like Gods! Given my own level, every pirouette seemed to be a glorious achievement! Alas, during the first years of WWII, Ricaux left the Opera. I was consternated, and felt quite lost! Nevertheless, I persisted with his exercises, determined to lose nothing of the endurance he had given us. No-one else could show how to link one movement to the other, and tie the steps together with such deportment, such breadth! I refused to forget him. A few years later, he returned from Monte Carlo – one of the happiest days in my life. I would take his class every morning, and then at lunch-time, take a daily private lesson with him, without a pianist, in a studio at Cité Pigalle that no longer exists.

I could speak of him for hours, of how he taught us to do grandes pirouettes à la seconde, the manèges of coupés-jetés left and right. The best we can do is to recreate one of his lessons, and recall some of the students he trained: Serge Peretti; Paul Goubé; Roger Fenonjois; Roland Petit; Jean Babilée; Serge Golovine; Raymond Franchetti; Daniel Seillier; Raoul Bari; Lucien Duthoit; Gilbert Mayer; Attilio Labis; René Bon; Alexandre Kalioujny; Michel Renault; Jean-Paul Andréani; Michel Descombey. Madeline Lafon and Claude Bessy were also his students.

I have written these lines to pay him homage, and to express the gratitude he inspires in me to this very day.