One of the few acknowledged teachers in the world to teach the Kniaseff method, virtually all the etoiles have passed through her class at one time or more often; I had the chance to share brunch after class.
Discipline, Rigour, Perseverance, Patience & Passion…
M.M. Were you born in Paris? And when did you start to dance ?
J.F. No. I was born in Algeria. I started to dance at the age of five and started pointe at age six. I went to the Conservatoire in Algiers when I was fifteen.
M.M. That’s outrageously young to start pointe did you suffer any consequences ?
J.F. I see your point, but no, I had no consequences whatsoever.
How did you come to Paris ?
J.F. It was 1958 and I was almost 18. I had won the Grand prix at the Conservatoire in Algiers and part of the prize was to be able to travel to Paris and audition for the large companies. I auditioned at Chatelet and was awarded a contract as premiere danseuse. I turned the contract down though and returned to Algeria to complete my schooling, I was very lucky, because the year after the ballet at Chatelet informed me the contract was still available, so I moved to Paris and worked very happily there for the next two years. I was then offered a contract by Roland Petit with Zizi Jeanmaire at Alhambra. It was 1961 we did many shows and also toured to America, after we came back I did a lot of T.V. work for the next three years. To be honest with you I was completely bored with T.V. I started to study acting at night with René Simon. The same story repeated itself and after two years – I won the Grand Prix, although this time it wasn’t an audition I won – Jacques Charon was on the jury and wanted me for his next play La Dame de Chez Maxim’s with Zizi Jeanmaire, it was December ’65. So my path crossed with Zizi once more, this was to be an important reunion. It was Zizi who encouraged me to give class everyday and it was from her that I first heard of Boris Kniaseff.
Who was Boris Kniaseff ?
J.F. Boris Kniaseff was a mysterious Russian who met Diaghilev in 1925, he subsequently met Cechetti and Spessivtseva, with the latter he conducted a two year relationship. It was Spessivtseva who declared – » he has the passion for the dance» and encouraged him to teach. He began teaching in the mid thirties in Paris, two years later Yvette Chauviré joined his class; it was the establishment of a new teaching method in France. In 1943 Chauviré introduced a 17 year old Zizi Jeanmaire to Kniaseff, which leads to my connection with him.
I sense a story coming, how did you connect with him ?
J.F. When vacation break came while I was working with Zizi; I didn’t know what to do. Zizi insisted that I go to Athens and look up her friend Boris (who by this time had fled France for Switzerland, where he developed the barre au sol and subsequently to Greece) at the same time delivering a letter. I went and after searching for a long time found this incredible man. You must remember I was not dancing at this time, but after staying for four weeks I got all the solutions to my defects. It was the discovery of the keys of classical placement; how to manage turnout. I witnessed the change in me – I was longer, more balanced, It was a personal revelation. Magnifique et logique! In retrospect it was the most important moment of my life.
So when did you start to teach ?
J.F. Well, that was much later. I continued acting until 1971 and then stopped everything. I didn’t want to be on stage anymore; it was the beginning of the changement. I lived on unemployment and life was a fete! At the start of 1974 I was invited to dine with Bruhn and Nureyev and just after was asked to teach a boys class, I remember it was 2nd April 1974 – the day Pompidou died. I had a class of nine boys, aged 12-16, It was supposed to last one hour, after two hours the director came in to check. I had not seen the time pass, it was bizarre, strange – I find my place.
What is most important to you as a teacher and for teaching in general ?
J.F. Respect of the classical tradition. My main fault with other teachers is they focus too much on technique – the dancers don’t understand. A dancer must discover who they really are; they must understand responsibility and true awareness of their bodies for example – eating. Also, in dance they must avoid caricature and develop maturity.
Could you describe the barre au sol a little ?
J.F. Where people get confused sometimes is that the barre au sol is not meant to replace the normal class, but be added to it. Therefore the class is in three parts instead of two. If it were to done on its own it would merely be re-education. The technique was developed by combining Graham style floor exercises with the classical technique, but has become quite sophisticated, giving a complete workout of the classical repertoire of exercise, on the floor, focusing especially on placement. After that you continue with a normal barre and centre with enchainments and allegro.
Can you name some dancers who have passed through your class ?
J.F. Well it started with Zizi, but over the years I have had most of the etoiles – Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Manuel Legris, I have a lot of Canadian dancers, some from the Hamburg Ballet, lately Zenaida Yanovsky from The Royal Ballet and Evelyne Desutter . I also get actors and singers as well as working many hours with some young quadrilles at the Opéra.
If you had advice for a young dancer just starting out, what would it be ?
J.F. Be sure to be passionate. Discipline, rigour, perseverance, patience and passion are what you will require to succeed. Fuente: p5067.club.fr/danceparis