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.