Ricaux, my Master
by Daniel Seillier
14 November 2010
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Montréal, 20th October 2010
To speak of so great a master off the top of one’s hat is no easy thing. Certainly, Ricaux is the greatest teacher I have ever known. I am his disciple, and everything I myself have succeeded in passing on, all the étoiles I have trained, is thanks to him.
From the age of ten to eighteen, I studied with Gustave Ricaux at the Opera School. We pupils would affectionately call him Tatave! Tatave never sought fame and glory. Nor was he ever off sick. He was there for us, every day, to give class. Regular, the man was!
It is not just the enchaînements, the steps, he gave us, that made so deep an impression, it is how he taught, how he could get across the "feel" for the steps, the nuances he could bring us to sense. It was more collaborative effort between master and pupil – but one that we were not even fully aware of!
There was a wonderful concept behind his teaching: the week was built around five classes that advanced over five levels; the pupils at one level gained a notion of where they were expected to go, by watching the next level up dance. Throughout my career as a teacher, I’ve tried to pass on what he gave us, that love he expressed through gesture, and that reveals itself in movement.
Thanks to the explanations he gave, we were led to readily grasp difficult things. Although we pupils respected him as the great man he was, and an elderly man at that, he was nonetheless very close to us, he was our father in dance.
Another wonderful thing, is how he brought out each individual’s personality, without ever imposing his own. Again, we were not really aware of it – it was only later, that we realised that we were, truly, ourselves.
Tatave never shouted. He spoke to the pupils in a normal tone of voice. But his authority was such that we could do incredible things: sixty-four entrechat-six, series of tours en l’air and other deeds of derring-do that one wouldn’t find with the other instructors. We took on this "punishment" for what it was – but what fantastic progress we made with technique!
My wife Olga Makcheeva was a student of Kchessinskaya and Preobrajenskaya. Just as we were both lamenting that the life’s work of these masters – and more especially, in my case, Ricaux – seemed to have fallen away into dust, what joy it is to have this chance to celebrate them!
Born in 1926, Daniel Seillier finished his studies at the Opera School in 1942, joined the troupe and was appointed soloist (sujet) in 1945.
Between 1946 and 1950 he took part in the South American tour of Les Ballets Français with Roger Fenonjois, Lolita Parent, Marianne Ivanoff and Serge Peretti, and then danced with Les Ballets du Marquis de Cuevas from 1951 to 1961, where he met and married Olga Makcheeva. There, he was étoile, teacher, choreographer and maître de ballet at once. In 1961, he founded the National Ballet of Portugal.
In 1963, Ludmilla Chiriaeff invited him to become artistic co-director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Between 1965 and 1980, he was maître de ballet and teacher with the National Ballet School and National Ballet of Canada, where he formed 18 principals, including Karen Kain. He returned to Montréal in 1980 to teach at the Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and act as Pedagogical Director of the École supérieure de danse du Québec (1980-1998). He then taught until 2008 at the Conservatoire de danse de Montréal founded by his son Alexandre. In 1993 he was appointed to the Order of Canada. On 15th October 2010, the Daniel Seillier Studio was inaugurated at the École supérieure de danse du Québec.