French ballerina leaps from Paris to California

June 12, 2016 - 09:00

French star ballet dancer Mathilde Froustey has a strong attachment to her grandmother, who is Vietnamese and was adopted in France at a young age. She shares her thoughts on her life and career with Vương Bạch Liên.

Viet Nam News

French star ballet dancer Mathilde Froustey will perform in Hà Nội on Saturday with other artists from different countries at the first ever Paris-Ballet concert in Việt Nam.

For three years, the 31-year-old artist has been the principal dancer of the San Francisco Ballet in the US, a position she landed after leaving the Paris Opéra Ballet, where she first entered in 2002 at the age of 17.

Froustey was honoured with a Paris Ballet Donation Foundation dance prize and a gold medal at the Varna International Competition, both in 2004; the Ballet2000 dance prize in 2007; and Danza & Danza’s best foreign dancer award in 2013. 

In particular, she has a strong attachment to her grandmother, who is Vietnamese and was adopted in France at a young age.

She shares her thoughts on her life and career with Vương Bạch Liên.

Inner Sanctum: Is this the first time you came to Việt Nam?

No, it’s my second time. I first arrived in Việt Nam in 2008 and travelled throughout the country for three months. I had planned to visit this country with my grandmother, but unfortunately she couldn’t come here with me. I have unforgettable memories of that trip. I was first surprised by the humidity of HCM City when I got out of the plane. Due to the jet lag, I couldn’t sleep well on my first night here. So the following morning, I went to a local market at a very early hour. I ate a little phở and it was incredibly delicious.

At that time, I was still very young, I travelled alone and I didn’t speak English well, but I never felt alone, as I could meet the local people who were very kind and who were always ready to help me. I felt very safe.

At the beginning, I only planned to stay here one month and a half, but after, it pleased me so much that I decided to stay here three months.

I would love to take any opportunity to keep coming back to Việt Nam.

Inner Sanctum: Did you know about Vietnamese cuisine before coming to Việt Nam?    

Yes, my mother is Vietnamese, and she used to cook Vietnamese food very often when I was small. But before coming to Việt Nam, I didn’t like the cuisine of my grandmother much. I found it too savoury. I preferred Vietnamese cuisine cooked in a French style, which was already modified to adapt to the tastes of French people.

But when I came to Việt Nam, I understood why my grandmother often cooked with so much nước mắm (fish sauce), and spices. And since my visit to Việt Nam, surprisingly, I began to love the cuisine of my grandmother.

Inner Sanctum: Are you close with your grandmother?

Yes, I am very close with her. My mother was very young when I was born. She was only 17 years old. So my grandmother gave me a lot of education.

My mother was very busy working every day, so I spent most of my time with my grandmother. She used to sing me several Vietnamese songs (in Vietnamese) every night to lull me to sleep. Even though I didn’t understand the lyrics, I grew up with those sweet lullabies.

Inner Sanctum: You start learning ballet at a young age. What makes you passionate about the performance art?

I began to learn ballet when I was nine years old. At the beginning, I hated it. It was horrible! Very difficult. My body hurt all over. My scalp hurt because I had to keep my hair in a bun all day. At that time, I preferred to play tennis, swim and do things other than dancing. But after some time, my teacher told me that I had a lot of talent in dancing and encouraged me to follow this art. I gradually fell in love with the ballet. And when the moment came that I felt ballet had become a passion, there was nothing more important to me than it.  

Inner Sanctum: You’ve become a ballet star and are well-known in the world. You have had several noted roles during your career. Which role was your favourite?

It’s the role of Kitri in Don Quixote. It is one of my noted roles at both the Paris Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, and the one I love most. I am very happy to have the occasion to dance as Kitri to the public in Hà Nội this Saturday. It was the last ballet piece I performed at the Paris Opera Ballet before leaving for San Francisco. It was also my emblem. It suited me perfectly.

You know, the character of Kitri, she is a Spanish woman who is a little too embarrassing. She speaks too loud, she laughs too loud. And she doesn’t care how she dresses. And I love this character. It is very funny. What is magnificent in the dancing is that I can be both a dancer and an actor. I love my job because it allows me to laugh on stage, but also to cry, to love and to die on the stage.

Inner Sanctum: You moved from Opera de Paris, the oldest national ballet company in the world, to San Francisco Ballet.  How is your life different now?

I am glad that I could realise my American dream, and live a new life that gives me a lot of energy and motivation each day.

For me, Opéra de Paris became a family. We can stay there until retirement at the age of 42. But I have also learned a lot at the San Francisco Ballet. I have never regretted my choice. 

It’s interesting to learn two different ballet styles, both French and American.

While French ballet is elegant, American ballet rhythms have more dynamism and more actions.

I am glad to see that the French ballet is very appreciated in the world and in the US.

I didn’t meet many difficulties in integrating into my new life in San Francisco. Since I came here to learn ballet, people also use a lot of French words, as most of the basic ballet terms are French.

After three years working at San Francisco Ballet, I feel that I have become an ambassador of the French ballet in this city.

Inner Sanctum: What advice do you want to give to young people who wish to pursue the career of ballet? And what is a good ballet dancer to you?

I would tell them to be very patient and to work hard.

If anyone has the talent and works hard, he or she will succeed. It may take time, but the success will surely come.  

A good ballet dancer is one who will be remembered for a very long time after they perform onstage. It’s one who thrills the public, who makes them laugh and cry with their roles. VNS