Auguste Vestris


Lauren Anderson en France

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A Report on Lauren Anderson’s Trip to France
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Doris W. Jones (1914-2006), Claire Haywood (1920 ? – 1978)
Marion Helene Durham Cuyjet
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Historique du Houston Ballet
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Lauren Anderson

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A Report on Lauren Anderson’s Trip to France
March 16th to 21st 2014

5 June 2014

Printable version / Version imprimable   |  1099 visits / visites

In the third week of March 2014, the Centre de danse du Marais and the Société Auguste Vestris were honoured with a week-long visit by Lauren Anderson, the Society’s first guest from the United States.

Lauren Anderson is not only the first Afro-American principal dancer of Houston Ballet - amongst ballerinas, she is no doubt the first Afro-American ever celebrated as a major international star.

The full implications of Lauren’s career may not be immediately obvious for a white person. On March 21st, Lauren visited the renowned teacher Yvonne Cartier in hospital, where she lay gravely ill, sharing a room with a lady from the West Indies. As Lauren entered the room, the lady exclaimed “Yvonne, is THIS the ballerina you have told us about?” The lady then leafed through the pages of the brochure published on the occasion of Lauren’s stay in France. On her reaching the insert with portraits of Lauren on stage, we realised that she was wiping away tears.

As Miss Anderson had never danced in France, we were unprepared for the thunderstorm of optimism, technique and derring-do that was to be unleashed.

First of all, Miss Anderson is possessed of a technique for which the word ‘phenomenal’ is an understatement. Eight full years after retirement, at 49 years of age, she will blithely toss off men’s steps such as double tour en l’air like an arrow shot from a bow, or rows of jetés battus en remontant et en descendant – et j’en passe. A phenomenal technique, yes, but masked by a limpid and rigorously classical approach to the steps.

Thanks to Ben Stevenson, Miss Anderson’s training was in large measure Cecchetti, as well as ‘pre-reform’ RAD and Vaganova. Her explanation, for example, as to why the sbalzo (little jump) onto point or demi-pointe allows the dancer to control the speed of rotation of the pirouette, as opposed to rolling up and thus away from the central axis, is pure Cecchetti – and purely scientific.

Sunday March 16th 2014, Centre de danse du Marais, 75004 Paris

The Centre de danse du Marais is amongst the most beautiful set of dance studios in Europe. The group of buildings, a Charapanowsky-Carrance family property since the 1920s, date from the very early 17th Century, and the room where Lauren taught, the Salle Beethoven, has an original, intact ornate polychrome ceiling similar to the nearby Hôtel de Sully. The buildings are a listed historical monument.

Introduced by Marie-Josée Redont of the Opera School and by Ghislain de Compreignac for the Centre de danse du Marais, Lauren taught a public master-class class on Cupid’s variation from the Don Quixote to a young professional, Chloé Anaïs Lopes-Gomes, and vocational students Loïse Dô and Céline Besnard. This was followed by a talk and a cocktail party attended by the Paris dance community. On display in the Centre du Marais were portraits of black classical dancers throughout the 20th Century, collated with the help of François Aulibé, a final-year student at the Conservatoire national supérieur de Paris.

Monday 17th March at the Centre chorégraphique national (CCN)/ Ballet de Lorraine, at Nancy in Eastern France

Invited for the CCN’s 2013-2014 Dance in America programme, Lauren’s host was the teacher Daria Dadun, former soloist of the Ballet national de Lorraine under Pierre Lacotte. Lauren taught groups of students (both amateur and vocational) who regularly attend classes with the CCN Ballet de Lorraine, and was featured on page 4 of l’Est Républicain, the regional daily.

Tuesday 18th March 2014 – Conservatoire de Grigny, directed by Edgar SOLMI.

The absolute high-point of Lauren’s trip to France was the event at Grigny.

About an hour’s train-trip from central Paris, Grigny’s residents are in the main, first-and-second generation immigrants. Its Community Hall bears the name of Nelson Mandela, and an elementary school, that of Dulcie September, a South African anti-apartheid activist in exile, assassinated at Paris in 1988.

Dulcie September

At the Dulcie September School, Lauren taught a group of ten-to-eleven year olds already involved with an OUTREACH programme called Dance at School and with an Artistic Discovery Workshop led by Nathalie Rousselle and Nadia Chessebeuf. The latter teach classical and contemporary dance respectively, at the Grigny Conservatoire.

Madame Maginot, the schoolmistress, observed that since the Dance at School programme was launched in September 2013, bullying and hectoring amongst the children had virtually ceased, they had begun to play as a team, make friends and have fun cooperating.

Later in the day at Grigny, Lauren taught a workshop for adolescents and older beginners, and one for adult amateurs at the Halle Sportive & Culturelle Jean-Louis Henry. Immediately thereafter a permanent plaque at the entrance celebrating Lauren’s visit was unveiled by Philippe Rio, Mayor of Grigny, and the dance studio was renamed in Lauren’s honour as well, as parents, teachers and children crowded round.

In the evening, Lauren gave a talk in the Point Information Jeunesse auditorium, attended by a large group of parents and children, by the Conservatory’s Director Edgar Solmi, a true evangelist for the performing arts, and by the Mayor. A buffet supper was then arranged for all participants.

On display in the Grigny schools was the aforesaid exhibition of photographs.

Wednesday 19th March 2014 – Conservatoire à rayonnement intercommunal de Rambouillet

Rambouillet is an old and exceptionally beautiful town about an hour’s train-ride from Paris with extraordinary walks, and its Conservatoire is housed is an 18th Century building within a park.

The Conservatoire’s student body here is very mixed – there are vocational students who come in specially to work with Claire Feranne van Dyk, the widow of the great German dancer Peter van Dyk, as well as amateurs at all levels.

It was a marvellous thing to see Lauren teaching the Initiation Class for children aged 7 to 9 with little experience of ballet. From the first instant, the stress she places on inner discipline – playful, but strict nonetheless – which extends even to how street shoes are to be taken off and lined up against the wall, allows the children to focus on learning rather than mooning about as they fritter away precious moments. Lauren has thought up effective ways of getting the children to make eye-contact and learn to move as one. Worthwhile, not only for those who will one day be corps de ballet …

In the late afternoon, Lauren taught a smaller group of intermediate-to-advanced Conservatory students (including two or three vocational ones) ranging in age from 22 to about 16. Here, the accent was on the fundamentals of technique and understanding the Why and Wherefore of exercises at the barre and in the centre.

Thursday 21st March 2014 – Conservatoire du XXe arrondissement - Paris

At the invitation of Elisabeth Rémy-Schwartz, Inspector of Dance for the Conservatoires of the City of Paris, Lauren taught a three-hour class to a group of Conservatoire teachers. Mme. Rémy-Schwartz had been a student of Cecchetti’s disciple Margaret Craske in the 1970s before becoming a contemporary dancer of the school of Isadora Duncan, and there was much to discuss.

Later in the day, Lauren was received by the Mayor of the Fourth Arrondissement, Christophe Girard. For many years, Monsieur Girard headed the Paris Town Hall’s Cultural Department, and he continues to nourish a keen interest in both the visual and the performing arts.

Friday 21st March 2014 - Conservatoire de rayonnement régional de Boulogne-Billancourt

At the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatoire de rayonnement regional, the Director of Dance is Dominique Franchetti, daughter to the celebrated teacher Raymond Franchetti – and Franchetti himself, was a pupil of the great Gustave Ricaux. In this vocational school, Lauren taught three groups aged from twelve to eighteen years of age, ending with those who will next year be in Junior Companies or auditioning. Thanks in particular to professor Nadine Praddaude, many of the Conservatoire’s staff members including teachers of jazz and contemporary dance, came, saw and were conquered by Lauren’s ability to get the students to move – and her eagle-eye for fixing any flaw.

As Lauren left France on March 22nd, we learnt that the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution due to open in November 2015 at Washington, D.C. will feature Lauren’s career in the permanent exhibition devoted to the classical arts.

Lauren’s trip to France was covered by the monthly Amina (double-page feature), and on the Websites Resmusica and Danses avec la Plume; articles also appeared in the daily newspaper Le Républicain lorrain and in the Boulogne Billancourt magazines Cultures and BBI, as well as on the website DanseTrack in the USA, and on several French Websites.