An Interview With Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc

By Michelle Meywes Kopeny in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 24, 2015 6:30PM

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Derrick Agnoletti, Anastacia Holden, Victoria Jaiani, Rory Hohenstein, and Fabrice Calmels in 'Evenfall.' Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Evenfall, a new piece from French choreographer Nicolas Blanc, makes its U.S. premiere this week as part of the Joffrey Ballet's current program, "New Works".

This marks the first time in more than 20 years that a ballet master (aka trainer) has choreographed for the company. Blanc, who has been with Joffrey since 2011, created this piece specifically for dancers Derrick Agnoletti, Fabrice Calmels, Rory Hohenstein, Anastacia Holden and Victoria Jaiani for the Festival Danse en PlaceS in Montauban, France in 2013.

We got a chance to ask Blanc about this new piece and how he ended up in Chicago.

CHICAGOIST: You’ve worked and performed with companies all over the world. What is it about the Joffrey that brought you here to become a ballet master?

NICOLAS BLANC: I know [Joffrey Artistic Director] Ashley Wheater from our time together in San Francisco ballet. Ashley was the personal assistant to Helgi Tomasson and I was a principal dancer there. We had an excellent work relationship. When Ashley called me from Chicago and asked me if I was interested in joining the Joffrey Ballet, I knew that it would be a fit for me because we share a very similar artistic vision. I also heard that the dancers were fierce and daring and that the company was always open to new works and new ideas. I was confident that I would develop as an artist and that my growth would be nurtured.

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Derrick Agnoletti & Anastacia Holdenin 'Evenfall,' photo by Cheryl Mann

C: Evenfall is described as watching a couple go from the beginning of their romance through their “autumn years.” Did you base this theme on any personal experience?

NICOLAS BLANC: I think that the passing of time has always been very present for me in many aspects of my life. Seeing people around me aging. Seeing myself transforming from a kid to a teenager to a man. The other important element is the impermanence of things: A moment of happiness (perhaps in its most irrelevant and simplest form) is such a precious gift to experience. I think I wanted to explore the journey through this creation. Where do we come from? Who are we as a group but also as an individual? Moreover, Max Richter’s recomposed “Four Seasons” was the perfect vehicle to let me dive into a world on its own.

C: How did you decide to choreograph the piece specifically for Joffrey dancers Derrick Agnoletti, Fabrice Calmels, Rory Hohenstein, Anastacia Holden and Victoria Jaiani?

NICOLAS BLANC: Alain Marty, a friend of mine and artistic director of my hometown dance festival (Danse en PlaceS Montauban) paid a visit to the Joffrey about two years ago. He loved the dancers, he loved the repertory we presented at the Auditorium Theater, and he invited Fabrice Calmels and to an evening celebrating French artists who made a career in the United States. Victoria, Anastacia, Derrick and Rory embraced the idea to collaborate with me on a new ballet. I immediately saw how each of them would superbly portray the characters. I mean, I picked a dream team to work with and they gave it back to me to the fullest! Ashley [Wheater] was also extremely supportive of the idea and it was a great chance to represent the Joffrey Ballet abroad and show the French dance world what we are made of!

C: Do you have a favorite choreographer or piece that you love to perform?

NICOLAS BLANC: During my time, I loved dancing as many various roles as possible so I could feel really complete. I gave myself fully to each piece and loved dancing abstract and narrative equally. Some roles left a mark on me—such as Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet" or Don Jose in "Carmen"—they are so powerful that you have to drop being self-conscious. I have learned so much from choreographers that I worked with or admired such as Mats Ek, William Forsythe, Stanton Welch, Christopher Wheeldon, just to name a few. Most importantly, as a creator, it is essential to know where we come from in order to craft an individual vision and build the future of dance and ballet.

"New Works" runs through May 3rd at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Works from Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Val Caniparoli are also on the bill. Tickets are $32 to $155.