Ballet Stars

From Paris With Love: Mathilde Froustey Captivates at San Francisco Ballet

Mathilde Froustey photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's April/May 2014 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

This past January, a standing ovation greeted San Francisco Ballet's newest Giselle, Mathilde Froustey, when she took her bows. As she made her debut in the ultimate French Romantic ballet, the former Paris Opéra Ballet sujet (demi-soloist) was a long way from the Palais Garnier. Months before, Froustey, 28, had made waves by announcing she was taking a year's leave from the POB to join San Francisco Ballet as a principal—the first high-profile transfer from the insular French institution in years. With only two weeks of rehearsals, Giselle should have been a daunting experience, but Froustey gave a heartfelt, accomplished performance. “There was no time to be scared, to have doubts," she says. “I found my place as a principal. In Paris, I never thought I'd do the ballet."

Froustey had other opportunities to show her mettle with the POB, however, where she hovered on the brink of a breakthrough for years. In December 2012, when the slender brunette made her Don Quixote debut, she was the Kitri everyone scrambled to see, claiming the stage with her customary blend of elegance, lightness and spontaneity. Her performance might have seemed to warrant a promotion to soloist, but none was forthcoming. A decade after she joined the company and won a gold medal at the International Ballet Competition—Varna, and seven years after her promotion to sujet, Froustey remained at the upper corps rank, in spite of the ovations she garnered in leading roles. A month before Don Quixote, she had tried her luck again at the concours de promotion, the annual internal competition where the fate of all lower-ranked POB dancers is decided by a jury composed of artistic staff, company members and guests, and experience often counts for little. She failed yet again to win over judges, and since the vote is secret, received no explanation. In San Francisco, Froustey is the newest member of a long line of French dancers, among them Muriel Maffre, Sofiane Sylve and Pascal Molat, nurtured by artistic director Helgi Tomasson. His gamble on Froustey seems to have paid off: In SFB's faster-paced environment, a star has finally spread her wings.


Born near Biarritz, a short ride away from the Spanish border, Froustey was a hyperactive child. Her mother signed her up for ballet classes to improve her posture. “I was a tomboy, so it was torture for the first three years," she says with a laugh. “But one day I decided to apply myself, and I realized it wasn't so bad." Froustey set her sights on becoming a dancer, enrolling at Marseille's Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Danse and going to dangerous lengths to improve her feet's flexibility with weights and furniture when she was told they were ill-suited to ballet.


Froustey in a gala performance from "Giselle's" Act II. Photo Courtesy Froustey.

The Paris Opéra Ballet School initially rejected her, deeming her Achilles tendons too short, but when she was 14, her mother sent photos again. Froustey was accepted as a paying student (the school is tuition-free for students admitted at a younger age), and spent three unhappy years there: “I was coming from a fun, relaxed environment, and I didn't understand why everyone was so mean. At 14, you shouldn't be told that you're fat and kicked out of class."

She found solace in weekend classes outside the school with Attilio Labis, a former POB étoile and renowned teacher, and the POB jury tasked with picking students for the company saw her potential. Joining the company in 2002 was “liberating," she says, and once there, her rise to the top seemed inevitable. Blessed with a sparkling technique and unmistakable personality onstage, Froustey caught the eye of former Bolshoi director Yuri Grigorovich when he came to set his Ivan the Terrible. He cast her in the leading role of Anastasia when she was just a second-year corps member, a rare honor in the strictly hierarchical POB. In 2004, her gold medal at Varna was the first awarded to a French dancer since Aurélie Dupont a decade earlier.

Froustey was appointed sujet in 2005 and classical leads followed, including Swanilda in Coppélia, Lise in La Fille mal gardée, Gamzatti in La Bayadère and Clara in Rudolf Nureyev's Nutcracker. The arcane concours soon became her nemesis, however. Repeatedly passed over, she started to doubt her abilities. “I don't dance well during the concours; I'm very nervous. I tried everything: hypnosis, mental coaching, even chocolate. Every year, around the time of the concours, I had a principal role. I did a stage rehearsal as Kitri the day after competing, and I didn't even rank among the top six."


At POB, Froustey alternated between leads like Kitri and corps work. Photo Courtesy Froustey.

Not even her artistic director, Brigitte Lefèvre, could tell her why the jury consistently didn't vote for her. Some ventured that her style was too extroverted and virtuosic for Paris, where restraint and purity are valued above all; Froustey was also considered to be part of a “lost generation" of very talented sujets held back by a lack of available soloist positions.

She tried not to dwell on the situation, however, and took advantage of numerous invitations to guest abroad alongside stars in galas from New York to Moscow, where she was often mistaken for a full-fledged principal. A temporary move abroad to experience different styles had been on Froustey's mind for some time. Moving back and forth between principal and corps work was becoming harder on her body, but Don Quixote was a turning point. “It was my first three-act ballet and my dream role. Afterwards it was very hard, both psychologically and physically, to return to the corps, and there was no guarantee I would ever dance Kitri again. I had to do something, because I didn't want to be bitter."

A few weeks later, she sent a prospective e-mail to San Francisco Ballet. She found the company's repertoire and style more familiar than that of some other leading U.S. companies. Tomasson remembered Froustey from Paris trips, had a look at videos she sent and, in an unusual move, offered her a principal contract over the phone a few days later. “I saw someone who deserved it, who had worked for it, and I thought it would give her confidence in herself," he says. “There was no question in my mind that she was excellent."

Froustey had to pinch herself when she hung up. Last July, she went straight from her final Paris performances in La Sylphide to the start of the season in San Francisco. The transition was far from easy, however, as she struggled to find an apartment and her place in the company. “I had to learn everything from scratch. I felt like people didn't find me that impressive for a new principal, and I kept thinking, 'I'm not as flexible as the Russians, I don't turn as well as the Cubans—what do I have to bring?' "

The many French speakers at SFB helped with the practicalities, however, and away from the sheltered environment of the Paris Opéra, where dancers are civil servants with lifetime contracts and retire on a pension when they turn 42, Froustey quickly learned to be more independent. “You have to be proactive here," she says. “People dance fast, learn fast, go onstage without as many rehearsals. In Paris, we were a little cosseted." Onstage, everything fell into place, with acclaimed debuts during the company's New York tour last fall, in Tomasson's Nutcracker and in Giselle. “She lights up the stage," says Tomasson. “What I love about her dancing is her joy. She feels music, and as an audience member, you connect with her. She's made to be onstage."

And while the pace has pushed Froustey, a self-proclaimed “slow learner," out of her comfort zone, she relishes the excitement that comes with it. “I'm rediscovering the pleasure you get from taking risks onstage. In Paris, there was no way you'd be allowed to change a step, but here you can work out your own Giselle. You're more of an adult in your work."

Homesickness remains a challenge, but Froustey credits Maria Kochetkova, now a friend, with helping her in and out of the studio: In December, they spent a few hours alone ironing out the details of Froustey's Nutcracker variation. Froustey's boyfriend, filmmaker Charles Redon, followed her to San Francisco and is making a documentary about her American year.

Her season will end on familiar ground with San Francisco Ballet's Paris tour in July. Before that, however, Froustey has a momentous decision to make: stay in California and relinquish her POB position for good, since dancers are only allowed one year's leave, or return to the corps in Paris. “I miss Garnier so much, it's my home, and it breaks my heart to think I'd never dance on that stage again," she says with a sigh. “But I want to dance. I want to feel like an artist."

The Conversation
Audition Advice
Dancers prepare before a Ballet West open audition. Jim Lafferty.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Victoria Watford recalls the first time she auditioned for the company: Even though she had attended PBT's summer intensive several times, the Cleveland native felt completely unprepared. "I was treating it like a summer intensive audition," she remembers. "There was an energy in the room of a lot of people who are ready to be professionals and are confident in their dancing. If you're not ready, you will feel it." Watford wasn't offered a job, so she took a place in the school's graduate program. Over the next two years she pursued company auditions until she ultimately landed her spot at PBT.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Getty Images

The lack of female leaders in ballet is an old conversation. But a just-launched website, called the Dance Data Project, has brought something new to the discussion: actual numbers, not just anecdotal evidence.

Keep reading... Show less
via joffreyballetschool.com

It's never too early to start thinking about your dream job. And summer intensives are an essential step down the road to achieving your dance dreams—whether you want to perform in music videos, ballet companies or Broadway shows.

With 19 programs across the U.S. (plus additional international programs) Joffrey Ballet School offers options for all types of dancers with all types of goals. Whatever you may be working toward this summer, there's a program that will help you get that much closer. We put together a guide to help you find the right one, based on your dream job:

Keep reading... Show less
News
Artists of Houston Ballet rehearsing Stanton Welch's Sylvia. Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Ellie Cotey at work in The Joffrey Ballet's costume shop. Photo by Temur Suluashvili, Courtesy Joffrey.

Building a full-length ballet from scratch is an intense process. For the world premiere of Anna Karenina, a collaboration between The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet, that meant original choreography by Yuri Possokhov, a brand-new score by Ilya Demutsky, costume and set designs by Tom Pye and lighting designs by David Finn.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Are you a total bunhead who loves to write? You might be the perfect fit for Pointe. We're seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about ballet and journalism.

Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Unity Phelan in Jerome Robbins' Antique Epigraphs. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

The NYCB soloist started strength-training to improve her ballet technique and found a second passion.

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy Nutmeg

Congratulations! You've made it through audition season and have decided which summer intensive to attend. (Don't worry if you're not there yet—that day is just around the corner.) We asked faculty from The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory what to do in the months leading up to your intensive so you can get the most out of it:

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Orlando Ballet dancers Kate-Lynn Robichaux and Arcadian Broad. Photo by Michael Cairns, courtesy Orlando Ballet.

It's been nearly a year and a half since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, but that doesn't mean the effects of the storm aren't still being widely felt. Thousands of Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida after the storm hit (the exact number is unknown), and many are still settled in Orlando.

This weekend, Orlando Ballet brings its Bailamos! program to audiences in Central Florida, and the company is offering 1,000 free tickets to Puerto Ricans in the area who were displaced by the hurricane. The ticket donation was organized in partnership with Orlando's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, who helped spread the word about how individuals and families could claim their tickets to the February 16 matinee. Some of the marketing for the performance was entirely in Spanish, and the program will also include an insert for Spanish-speaking audiences. "We're not just a professional ballet company; we are Orlando Ballet and we have a role to play in this community," says executive director Shane Jewell. "We have a social responsibility, I believe, as an arts organization, to do whatever we can to enrich the quality of life for everyone who's here."

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Photo by Steven Trumon Gray, courtesy Complexions.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and we can hardly contain our excitement. Their longstanding commitment to diversity and daring, edgy repertoire has made them an exemplar of American contemporary ballet today. The company's season opener will be held at the Joyce Theater from February 19–March 3. Works include the world premiere of Complexions co-founder and choreographer Dwight Rhoden's WOKE; a compilation spanning 25 years of the company's repertory titled From Then to Now; the return of the David Bowie tribute Star Dust; and the New York City premiere of Bach 25. A gala evening will be held February 21, in which Complexions co-founder and co-artistic director Desmond Richardson will perform for the last time as a full-time company member.

Pointe caught up with Rhoden and Richardson in separate interviews to hear them reflect on what the past 25 years has meant to them, what audiences can expect from their anniversary season, and why Richardson is choosing to step away from his role as full-time company member.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Evelyn Hart in "Swan Lake," via YouTube.

The individual touches that ballerinas incorporate into well-known classical variations are a source of endless fascination for us bunheads. (The abundant "variation compilation" videos on YouTube is proof of our obsession!) Odette's solo in Swan Lake's Act II is one that is particularly open to interpretation. The style is lyrical and introspective, giving dancers ample opportunity to make personal choices about choreography, musicality and character. The Canadian ballerina Evelyn Hart, a former principal with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, performs a fairly traditional version in this clip, yet with each nuance she defines her own Odette.

Evelyn Hart as Odette (1988) www.youtube.com

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
First State Ballet Theatre's Rie Aoki in the studio at Steps on Broadway, NYC. Quinn Wharton.

First State Ballet Theatre company dancer Rie Aoki was documenting her fashion choices long before Instagram was around. "When I was 8, I used to dress up my little sister and take pictures of her outfits because I loved styling," she says. Aoki grew up in Japan, and started her own fashion blog in high school before coming to the U.S. to pursue a ballet career. After joining FSBT in 2013, Aoki's pictures of her outfits on Instagram (@rievictoriaaoki) took off. Now with a following of over 10 thousand, Aoki has also started a new style blog.

"I love warmer colors like reds, yellows, oranges and browns," Aoki says. "And I'm all about mixing patterns and textures—if you stick to the same tones, you can wear totally different patterns and it looks fashionable," she explains. "But I don't think there are really rules for fashion. It's 2019. You can wear what you like and try something funky or a little crazy."

Keep reading... Show less
News

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Marcus Miller in conversation with Merritt Moore and Claudia Schreier. Courtesy National Museum of Mathematics.

Last Saturday night, I had a balletic epiphany. I wasn't in a mirrored studio taking class or even in a theater watching a performance. This luminous ray of understanding beamed into—wait for it—the basement of a math museum.

The National Museum of Mathematics (yes, that exists) hosted its fourth Quadrivium, a salon focusing on the intersections of music and math last Saturday in New York City. The evening's special guests were none other than ballerina Merritt Moore and choreographer Claudia Schreier.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Getty Images

Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop is back, this time answering all of your pointe shoe questions. Here she answers: "What could I do if my box is dead after a few weeks, but the shank is still hard?" Lee explains the anatomy of a pointe shoe, and offers tips on how to extend the life of your shoes, whether you break the box or the shank first.

State Ballet of Siberia dancer Yuri Kudriavstev. Courtesy Siberian Swan.

As ballet's gender roles grow increasingly blurred, more men than ever are reaching new heights: the tips of their toes.

It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistry. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).

The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.

Keep reading... Show less
Audition Advice
Getty Images

Let's face it: Auditioning is expensive. Between a $100-per-night budget-hotel room, a $300 round-trip plane ticket, $40 for food per day and $25 to $40 in audition fees, you may be out hundreds of dollars for one audition—and potentially thousands before you land a contract.

When planning an audition tour, you have to weigh the travel costs with the probability that your investment will result in a job offer. Plus, doing it all on a tight budget may mean trying to perform your best on travel-stiff limbs, fast-food options and little sleep. To help, we asked three professionals for their best advice on planning successful audition tours that don't break the bank.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Mackenzie Brown, the only American prizewinner, at the Awards Ceremony. Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

After a full week of class, coaching and competition, the 2019 Prix de Lausanne has announced its eight prizewinners. The dancers were selected from an initial group of 74, narrowed down to 21 selected to perform in last Saturday's Finals. The eight winners will receive company apprenticeships or scholarships to one of the Prix de Lausanne's partner schools. In addition, the Prix awarded five other prizes, and all of the remaining finalists received the Finalist Award, which includes 1,000 Swiss Francs.

This year, the Prix offered an unprecedented number of live streaming hours. If you tuned in this week, you weren't alone; more than 562,530 ballet fans watched the daily sessions, and the selections have been viewed more than 1,199,322 times. If you missed out, you can catch up here.

Get to know the winners below!

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Mackenzie Brown, one of the four Prix de Lausanne finalists from the U.S. Rodrigo Buas, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

Earlier today, 74 young dancers from 19 countries had their chance to take the stage at the Beaulieu Theater in Lausanne, Switzerland to compete in the 2019 Prix de Lausanne. A panel of nine esteemed judges including Gillian Murphy and Carlos Acosta chose 21 dancers to advance to Saturday's Finals.

Check out the complete list of finalists below.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
From left: Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin, Merrill Ashley and Wendy Whelan. Eduard Patino, Courtesy NDI.

On Monday evening, four 20th century New York City Ballet stars joined Wendy Whelan in conversation for an event titled Balanchine's Ballerinas hosted by National Dance Institute, the dance education organization that former NYCB dancer Jacques d'Amboise founded in 1976. D'Amboise introduced the four ballerinas taking the stage as dancers who "graced Balanchine and were graced by him." Hearing the ensuing conversation between Wendy Whelan and Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin and Merrill Ashley proved just that; the sense of inspiration that George Balanchine gleaned from his muses, and the deep appreciation he had for each individual's unique traits.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Rowser and Owen Thorne rehearse "Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux." Photo by Heather Thorne, courtesy Nashville Ballet.

Nashville Ballet's Kayla Rowser has performed a long list of leading roles: Aurora, Odette/Odile, Sugar Plum Fairy, the Firebird. But this weekend, Rowser takes on a new one created especially for her: the famous Dark Lady of William Shakespeare's sonnets, in artistic director Paul Vasterling's world premiere Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux. The ballet (running February 8-10) is based on the book Lucy Negro, Redux by poet Caroline Randall Williams. It explores the theory that Shakespeare's Dark Lady was a black woman, an actual London prostitute known as Black Luce or Lucy Negro.

For Rowser, who is African American, the ballet offers a rare opportunity to portray a character based on a woman of color. "Being able to explore a character who demands so much of who I am naturally, as well as through the gifts I have to share through ballet, is new to me," says Rowser. "It's different than being an African American woman dancing Odette or Aurora. Now what people are seeing is actually what is written. There's a lot of weight in that."

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Skylar Brandt and Julian Mackay dance Flames of Paris. Vladim Shults, Courtesy Russia-K.

When American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's phone lit up with a message from Julian MacKay last summer, she never could have imagined the journey it would set her on. Brandt barely knew the Mikhailovsky Ballet first soloist—they'd met briefly in St. Petersburg a few months earlier—but he wrote that he had a project he thought she'd be perfect for. Brandt was flattered, but assumed she'd be unavailable. She'd just come off an eight-week season with ABT and was in Los Angeles finishing up a tour. But MacKay was insistent. The next morning, Brandt was brushing her teeth when his sister, Maria Sascha Khan, called. "She explained that Julian was in Paris rehearsing for a Russian TV show called 'Big Ballet' and his partner had gotten injured. She asked if I could come to Paris immediately, as the show started filming in Moscow in one week."

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
The Royal Ballet's Marianela Nuñez in "Swan Lake." Image via YouTube.

Need an excuse for a YouTube ballet break? Probably not, but just in case, here are videos to celebrate some of this month's off-the-beaten-path holidays.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Grand Rapids Ballet in rehearsal. Jade Butler, Courtesy GRB.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox