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British dancer wins first ever Prix Clerc Milon

Posted on November 24, 2016

Prizes for classical dancing are few and far between in France. Indeed, the Prix Clerc Milon – awarded for the first time at the end of a gala performance amid the precious vines of this cru classé Bordeaux château early this July – is the only one at present. Born out of a desire by the Rothschild family to honour the memory of their mother, the late baroness Philippine, it is a biennial award to a dancer of non-principal rank from the Ballet de l’Opéra de Bordeaux, one of the few classical ensembles remaining on French soil and valiantly led by the ex-Paris Opéra étoile Charles Jude for the past 20 years, bucking what is a worrying trend in French dance. The prize, a generous €6,000, was decided by an illustrious jury headed by Brigitte Lefèvre, former director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, Cyril Atanasoff, another former Paris étoile himself and now a teacher held in the highest regard, and Nicholas Le Riche, who needs no introduction.

Things did not go quite to plan, in the best way possible, as the jury had indicated to the foundation, which sponsors the prize, that they would like to award it to two dancers. Nothing simpler apparently, and two prizes of 5000€ each were duly awarded. The recipients were very different indeed. Claire Teisseyre is a long-limbed young dancer of extremely good proportions whose performance of the Act II pas de deux from Swan Lake showed a clear line and a real sensitivity both to the music and to the phrasing of her movement. Lefèvre explained that the jury deemed her to be on the cusp of étoile, or star, status.

The other award-winner was a young British man, Ashley Whittle, who, after leaving The Royal Ballet School, took up a contract in Bordeaux. That was six years ago, and what was clear from his dancing was a rare combination of freshness and attack, displaying evident relish to be performing, with an understanding of the stage and how to present the choreography. It was indicated that Jude intends to present the two prize winners (for whom the Rothschild family threw in three magnums each from the years of their birth) together in two ballets during the course of next season; an exciting prospect, primarily to see these two talented young dancers perform, but also to see the whole company in action – their dancing during the gala was characterised both by a real joyfulness and a care for the choreography.

Finally, it can only be a cause for celebration that, through the generosity of the Rothschild family and the foundation they have established, subsequent classical dancers will be recognised in what has fast become a country of the contemporary choreographer. The next Prix Clerc Milon will be awarded in 2018.

Pictured: Claire Teisseyre and Ashley Whittle.

 

Gerald Dowler writes for the Financial Times, Ballet 2000 and several dance publications and websites. His articles have included appreciations of both Bronislava Nijinska and Antony Tudor and he has interviewed extensively for Dancing Times. He teaches at the City of London School.

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