#TBT: Agnès Letestu in Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc

Three French artists—19th century composer Édouard Lalo, 20th century choreographer Serge Lifar and retired Paris Opèra Ballet étoile Agnès Letestu—come together in this clip of Lifar’s Suite en Blanc. Lalo originally composed the score for Marius Petipa’s 1882 story ballet Namouna. In “Valse de la Cigarette,” the title character Namouna rolls a cigarette for her lover—a scene full of smoke and seduction. Lifar choreographed Suite en Blanc in 1943 as a series of divertissements. Though he stripped the score of its plot, he kept the dances’ names and, in some cases, hints at the stories behind them.

 

In “La Cigarette” variation, Letestu evokes curling smoke with her luscious movements. She balancés and, with an aloof grace, draws one delicate wrist to her forehead. Yet, her sumptuous attention to these simple moves is matched by her impeccable execution of the variation’s challenging technical steps.  Even while she pirouettes into a développé or shifts her weight with rapid precision, Letestu retains her cool self-possession. In staging Suite en Blanc for San Francisco Ballet in 2013, Maina Gielgud, who was coached in the role by Lifar himself, said that the dancers “need to have arrogant chic.” What could be more French? Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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