San Francisco Ballet principal Mathilde Froustey and her fiancé Mourad Lahlou. Photo courtesy Froustey

Before Mathilde Froustey met her now-fiancé, she invited him to come watch her dance—even though he'd never been to a ballet. He's now seen every single performance she's given since that night. "Even when I did six Nutcrackers!" Froustey exclaims.

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Ballet Stars
Wendy Whelan leads a crowded morning class. "The energy was amazing," she says. "Among the visiting companies, there was such a shared respect and friendliness toward each other." Kyle Froman.

On a crisp day in late October, the studio air is thick and hot as dozens of sweaty dancers finish up grand allégro at New York City Center. Despite the fact that many of them are jet-lagged, there is a palpable, positive energy throughout the studio. Teaching class is former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan, which seems fitting. The dancers, culled from eight major companies around the world, are getting ready for opening night of Balanchine: The City Center Years, a five-day festival highlighting the choreographer George Balanchine's early works.

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Viral Videos

The Paris Opéra Ballet, Swan Lake and the dance of Les Petite Cygnets—could anything in ballet be more iconic? Factor in four beloved French ballerinas dancing as the four little swans and we think not. In this 2006 performance, Fanny Fiat, Myriam Ould-Braham, Mathilde Froustey and Dorothée Gilbert (appearing from left to right in that order) are a testament to the powerful precision that makes this quartet so recognizable.

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Ballet Stars
From left: Jennifer Stahl, Lonnie Weeks and Sasha De Sola in rehearsal for Trey McIntyre's new work. Photo by Christian Peacock for Pointe.

Photography by Christian Peacock

Summer is always a lively time at San Francisco Ballet, as the dancers return from vacation and launch into rehearsals for the upcoming season. But last July through September felt absolutely electric with creativity as the company created 12 world premieres for Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a cutting-edge program that will run April 20–May 6 at the War Memorial Opera House.

Artistic director Helgi Tomasson invited a wish list of international choreographers to participate: David Dawson, Alonzo King, Edwaard Liang, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cathy Marston, Trey McIntyre, Justin Peck, Arthur Pita, Dwight Rhoden, Myles Thatcher, Stanton Welch and Christopher Wheeldon. Each got about 12 dancers, three weeks' studio time and, aside from a few general guidelines, total artistic freedom.

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Mathilde Froustey on the roof of the Palais Garnier. Photo by Erik Tomasson.

There’s no applause at the end of this solo. Instead, Mathilde Froustey’s performance in Manon’s second act party variation is met with critical whispers. This clip is from the Paris Opéra Ballet’s 2010 concours de promotion, the yearly competition in which low-ranking company members have one chance to impress before a panel of judges, in the hopes of moving up the company’s rigid hierarchy. Then a POB sujet (demi-soloist), Froustey, our 2014 April/May cover girl, recalled the experience to writer Laura Capelle, claiming, “I don’t dance well during the concours.”

We beg to differ. Taken out of the opulent ballroom scene with its glittering courtiers, Froustey’s Manon solo still shines. She captures the character’s seductive allure in the way she angles her shoulders and ripples her arms. Gliding across the stage, Froustey contrasts this luxurious upper body with crisp footwork. She appears both coy and confident, a skilled actress and a meticulous technician who dances as effortlessly as she smiles. The judges may not have been impressed enough to promote her, but San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson evidently disagreed. He invited Froustey to join SFB as a principal in 2013. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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Ballet Stars
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.

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