Paris ballet star Germain Louvet – in Nureyev's footsteps
As the gala in honour of Rudolf Nureyev approaches, we talk to Paris Opera Ballet Star Germain Louvet about the legendary dancer’s indelible presence and influence
Rudolf Nureyev, acclaimed by many as one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the 20th century – and certainly one of the most influential – died in January 1993 at cruelly young age of 54.
A few months later another star would be born: Germain Louvet, who would go on to reach the highest rank in Paris Opera Ballet, that of danseur étoile, at the exceptionally young age of 23. His promotion was announced on stage in Paris after he had performed the lead role of Prince Siegfried in Nureyev’s version of the classic Swan Lake.
The epitome of the elegant, princely danseur noble, Louvet will be among the firmament of ballet stars who will pay their own homage to Rudolf Nureyev by taking part in the Nureyev Legend and Legacy Gala at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in early September.
He may never have met Nureyev in person, but as he told Culture Whisper on the phone from France, Germain Louvet found Nureyev’s influence permeated his entire ballet training.
‘I first became familiar with the movement while I was still at school, because I had to learn the variations, so I got to know him through his choreographic language; then I got to understand his world through learning the repertoire when I joined Paris Opera Ballet, and working with people who had themselves worked with him, such as Élisabeth Platel and Laurent Hilaire, for example.
‘Then I started to understand his vision, so the link between him and me comes through his movement and then the memories of people with whom he worked.’
Nureyev was a multifaceted character. He first came to the attention of the West in spectacular form as a young Soviet dancer who defected from the then named Kirov Ballet (now Mariinsky) at Paris du Bourget airport in 1961. He took Western audiences by storm.
‘I think it’s a lot more than just how good a dancer he was,' says Germain, 'even though that was very important: his energy, his power, his technique as a ballet dancer. I think it’s how he confounded the expectations of what is a male ballet dancer, which was at that time a little bit boring.
‘Male dancers were less important than the ballerina, they were more partners, porteurs for women on stage. So, there was Nijinsky at the beginning of the 20th century and after that we had to wait until Nureyev for a new generation of powerful, creative, male ballet dancers.
‘I think also because of politics, because he couldn’t see his mother and family [who remained in the Soviet Union], that spurred him on to achieve what his choice meant for him.’
From 1983 to 1989 Rudolf Nureyev was director of Paris Opera Ballet. His influence on the company cannot be overstated and remains powerful to this day, says Germain Louvet:
‘He really marked the institution. He renewed the repertoire, because as well as director he was also a choreographer and he proposed a new way to approach ballet, a new way to see the story [of the classics], which is told all over the world and was created in the 19th century, such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, etc.
‘He proposed a modern vision of these classical ballets, but with respect for the traditions of the institution, the French way to do ballet. I think he admired French academism and the French style, and he wanted to play with it, to bring something else from outside.’
But Nureyev did more at Paris Opera Ballet than just renew the dancers' approach to movement, says Germain Louvet.
‘Ballet is about much more than just movement: it’s about relationships between, for example [Prince] Desiré and the Lilac Fairy [in Sleeping Beauty] or between Siegfried, the Prince in Swan Lake, and [the sorcerer] Rothbart. In Nutcracker almost at a psychoanalytic level there is something really strange and special between Drosselmeyer and his niece Clara.
‘So, when we see, for example, American versions of Nutcracker we don’t see the same story as in Nureyev’s Nutcracker.’
It is, therefore, fitting and proper that Germain Louvet should have chosen a very special Nureyev solo for his performance at the coming gala.
‘I’m dancing Nureyev’s signature solo, which is the variation of Prince Desiré. It’s a solo that the Prince is dancing in the forest. He was led by the Lilac Fairy to find Aurora. In a way it is an imaginary world between the court, the people around him in the 19th century, and the castle of Aurora which is in the 18th century.
‘So we can imagine that this forest is an in-between space, a psychological space in which he can start his quest for love. Nureyev chose this very beautiful solo from Tchaikovsky to do this part – of course, because Nureyev liked to shine as a star dancer! – and choreographed it to show himself in the best possible light.
‘I think it’s a very beautiful moment, a very personal example of what Nureyev was seeing through ballet.’
Culture Whisper for one can’t wait to see Germain Louvet perform this solo, which will surely be a stand-out, emotional moment in a show crammed full of stars, all acknowledging the artistry and influence of one of the greatest of them all: Rudolf Nureyev.