In anticipation of the Malandain Ballet Biarritz performance on March 25, we interviewed Claire Lonchampt who will play Belle in La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast). We asked her about her life as a ballerina working with Thierry Malandain.
About Claire Lonchampt:
Since 2011, Claire has been a part of Malandain Ballet Biarritz. Her formal dance training took place at the Dance School of the Paris National Opera from 1998 to 2001. After continuing her training at the European Dance Center, Claire was admitted to the CNSMD in The Conservatoir de Paris and she then joined the Junior Ballet in 2005. Before joining Malandain Ballet Biarritz, she worked with Zurich Ballet and the The Finnish National Opera and Ballet in Helsinki. Recently, in 2015, Claire obtained the National Diploma in teaching dance.
Why do you dance?
Because I can't "not dance!" Dancing is my passion and after so many years dancing it became kind of "addictive." It makes me feel free and confident—something I'm not in real life. I'm shy actually, and it allows me to be somebody else.
What do you do to prepare for a show?
I usually start to prepare for the performance two hours before. First, I have a little snack, something efficient like a banana or cereal bar, but not too heavy because I need to feel "light" during the show. Then I prepare myself by doing my make-up and hair. Then one hour before, I start to warm up my body and sometimes redo some of the steps which are a bit "risky and stressful." And to finish, I put my costume on and that's it, I'm ready to perform!
What does a typical day in your life look like?
As we tour a lot, I would say that a typical day for us is a day on tour. So, in that case, I wake up around 9:00 am and go have breakfast. Then I usually have two or three hours to rest either in the hotel or take a walk in the city where we are performing, so I have a chance to discover the attractive sights.
Then I go to the theater. This is the real beginning of my "working day." I will slowly start to warm up for the ballet class which is usually around 2:00 pm.
After that, we have corrections from the previous show and we repeat some parts which were not working well, or we can also do a full run-through of the show if it's been a long time since doing the ballet.
If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?
That's a very hard question! And I'm afraid I don’t know. I'm just hoping that I would have found a job which gives me as much passion and joy as being dancer.
Who inspires you?
I would say that great dancers inspire me; mostly stars or "Étoiles" from Paris Opéra Ballet such as Sylvie Guillem, Elisabeth Platel, or Marie-Agnes Gillot. Also, great artists with whom I had the privilege to work and who inspired me every day in class like Jurgita Dronina (Principal dancer at The National Ballet of Canada), or Igone De Jongh or Anna Tsygankova (Principal dancer at Dutch National Ballet).
What is life like with Malandain Ballet Biarritz? What is it like working with/for Thierry Malandain?
Life with Ballet Biarritz is everything except routine. As we change locations every day, each day is different and there is no way to get bored. It's also hard sometimes to not be at home so much and to live in your suitcases, but the enthusiasm that the audience gives us at the end of the performance helps us to go on.
To work with Thierry is a pleasure. As a choreographer, he is particularly musical and very attentive to his dancers; he is always open and available to us if we need to talk which is a great quality as a director. His creativity and his capacity to always surprise us with new ideas is a blast for us.
What is your role in La Belle et la Bête? Why is the piece so special/unique?
In this ballet, I'm doing the "Belle." For me, what is unique in this version of Beauty and the Beast from Malandain is the way Thierry chooses to treat the story. By using three additional characters (the artist, his soul, and his body), he brings a double meaning, "a tale within a tale," which is particularly interesting and gives a special deepness to the original narrative story. For this, he got very inspired by the version of Jean Cocteau who also used the character of the "artist" and many other symbols such as the key, the glove, or the mirror.
At the end, the most important is that all audiences can be satisfied. Either the little child who is happy to recognize and follow the love story between Beauty and the Beast, or the more knowledgeable public who is happy to be able to read different tellings of the story.
What is your biggest challenge in performing the piece? What is your favorite moment in the show?
I would say that the biggest challenge for me in this piece is to not fall into automatism. As we are performing it a lot, the biggest risk is to lose the freshness that you can have in the beginning and to not be as spontaneous as before. I always try my best to keep my reaction as natural as possible so the public can be touched and involved in the love story.
My favorite moment in this ballet is very quick and subtle, but it's the "last look" Belle gives to the Beast, after he allows her to come back home to see her sick father and before she leaves him alone to get back her family. It's not a long moment but it's very intense and powerfully touching because we can already feel the love between them.
What is your favorite part of the dance creation process?
My favorite part is in the creation process is definitely the time shared in the studio with Thierry. The moment of "trying", which will make the new vocabulary of the ballet. It can be very funny moments, intense moments, or even emotional moments. It's like a blank page where everything is possible to write.
Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
That's the hardest question ever—I can hardly choose one! The first that comes to mind would be maybe the Basque coast and its unforgettable sunsets.