Ballet Stars

The Season of Crystal Pite: Inside Her Rehearsals at the Paris Opéra Ballet

"There's a whole aspect to the craft of choreography that involves directing and leading a group of people. And it's like dancing: You need to practice, to work on being a leader," says Crystal Pite. Photo by Julien Benhamou.

Photographed for Pointe by Julien Benhamou

Crystal Pite considers herself to be on the contemporary end of the dance spectrum, but she's playing in the major league of ballet companies this season. In September, the Canadian choreographer debuted The Seasons' Canon, a large-scale work for 54 dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet; in March, she will follow up with her first work for The Royal Ballet.

For POB, The Seasons' Canon turned out to be a powerful collective experience at a time of transition. The French institution was left in turmoil by former director Benjamin Millepied's resignation announcement last February, but Pite channeled their strengths into a rare creation using a third of the company's impressive roster. In just four weeks—“a sprint" according to the choreographer—she took the dancers on a creative ride. “They're open, willing, generous, patient and delightfully hungry," she says.


"Choreographers are often a little lost during the creation process, but she knows exactly where she wants to go," says sujet Allister Madin. "She has a vision, and it's a joy to work with someone who is so clear."

Pite, an alum of William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt, reconnected with her ballet roots for the occasion. “As a dancer, it was always a real battle for me to fit into ballet," she says. “But I love working with classical dancers, because I get access to all that articulation, their sense of line and shape. The kind of architecture they have in their bodies is so ecstatic and beautiful."

And you could have heard a pin drop at times in the POB's studios, with the dancers also eager to stretch themselves in Pite's grounded style, built in part using improvisation. Paired with works by Forsythe and Justin Peck, The Seasons' Canon brought a bold new female voice to the fore in European ballet. Pite will go big again in London, with another group work set to Górecki's harrowing Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Rehearsing premieres danseurs Eve Grinsztajin and Alessio Carbone.

With étoile Marie-Agnes Gillot, encircled by the group. "I found some incredible dancers in the upper echelons that I just fell in love with," says Pite. "They have featured roles, but it was important to me that they were women into the community as well."

Étoile Ludmila Pagliero mid-lift. "The dancers at POB are amazing, but they have a very different skill set and vocabulary. It stretches me to find a way to deliver their excellence while still staying true to the values that I hold as a choreographer," says Crystal Pite.

Étoile Alice Renavand.

Premier danseur Vincent Chaillet and Pagliero rehearse a duet.

Carbone with Grinsztajn. "Improvisation is riskier with dancers I don't know, but it's still valuable," says Pite, who directs her own company, Kidd Pivot, in Vancouver. "It helps me quickly understand what they can do."

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