Fabrice Herrault: Ballet Master Extraordinaire
It is now time to speak of those whose skills and excellence shape the talents of young dancers to perfection, and under whose
guidance, the latent potential of established dancers is brought to its full blossoming. I speak of the ballet teachers and coaches without whom dancers would not have that essential third eye to tell them when they are dancing well and when, after much work and application, they are dancing beautifully.
I refer here to Fabrice Herrault, one of the finest ballet masters today, whose ever-burgeoning crop of young dancers continues to impress and even surpass the competition, notably at some established ballet schools. Herrault, teaching open classes on weekends at Steps on Broadway and daily at his own studio, the Fabrice Herrault Studio, can quite literally make anyone dance beautifully, as long as they listen to his astute corrections and take his remarkably clear instructions to heart.
Herrault, who has been teaching in NY for over a decade, was trained at L'Ecole de Danse de L'Opera de Paris under Claude Bessy and at the Conservatoire Superieur National de Musique de Paris under Serge Golovine and Attilio Labis. He was a star pupil of Daniel Franck at the Academie Chaptal, and began his career with Les Jeunes Ballets de France. He danced with Hamburg Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and Les Ballet de Marseille Roland Petit, and as Mephistopholes in the Paris production of "Cats." He was invited to dance for Maurice Bejart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century, but America called to him, and he made his way here, where he danced with the Twyla Tharp Company. He appeared in the dance films La Dame au Camelias with the Hamburg Ballet and in the PBS special "Dance in America" in Twyla Tharp's The Upper Room.
Herrault was "always drawn to teaching," he says, and after a performance of Albrecht in Giselle with The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, during which he sustained a knee injury, he began to make the transition to teaching more and more, while still continuing to perform.
Herrault is a relatively young teacher who is able to demonstrate his combinations full out – and this always gives a thrill, as he shows just how it should be done. In fact, one could argue that he should still be performing on stage, where he would outshine some of today’s most notable male dancers with his technique and artistry. But students are fortunate that in addition to his full out demonstrations, meticulous corrections, and supportive and encouraging manner, Herrault is a purist, whose unfailing devotion to the art form is responsible for some wonderful dancing in his students. His attention to detail, for, as he says, “the audience can see everything on stage,” is accompanied by a vast amount of knowledge about technique, placement, musicality, dynamic, and coordination, all aimed at attaining a kind of perfection that is seldom seen in ballet dancing.
However, with Herrault's students, it must be said that this kind of perfection is readily visible, and remarkably, quite often. Indeed, his dancers have a certain simplicity and clarity without mannerisms, just clean and clear technique and artistry, energy, and dynamic. His dancers have a sense of calm about the upper body, an effortlessness in terms of transitions, a clarity of execution of the steps, a luxurious plie, and perfect coordination of the arms, legs, and head; the body moves in one piece with the kind of fluidity that is ballet at its best.
His class is one of the best around, with a barre that is challenging, engaging, and fun. Moreover, in his class, one cannot cheat--one must simply give in to the beauty of his combinations, and with the help of his friendly corrections which are direct and clear, a dancer can push him or herself to the utmost and have a great class, all the time working more and more to dance beautifully. ABT’s stars are usually seen taking his class when they are in town; Daniil Simkin, Paloma Herrera, Veronika Part, and Stella Abrera, are among them. They know that with Herrault’s class, they will not only be thoroughly prepared to go on the stage, but they will even learn something new about technique that they can apply in future performances. This is because Herrault is that rarity among ballet teachers; a teacher who actually teaches exactly how to do the steps correctly. He does this by explaining which muscles must be engaged for each step, what port de bras is part of the step-- and so many teachers just focus on what the legs are doing, how to maintain one’s placement while moving in space, and, this is one of the most interesting things about his teaching--he explains exactly what kind of quality each step should have: quick, slow, energized, buoyant, melting, the list goes on, depending upon whether or not it is a pirouette, a jump, an adagio movement, etc.
One beautiful example is his protégé, the lovely Beatriz Stix-Brunell, who has trained with him since the age of 11. After studying at the L'Ecole de Danse de L'Opera de Paris, she began to train with him, two hours a day, six days a week. At 16, she is so polished and works beautifully, with smooth and easy transitions in between steps, a great ease and fluidity of movement, and flow, so that everything is connected. When she dances, one cannot look at anyone else. As she is in the company of some of today's most celebrated dancers in Morphoses- the Christopher Wheeldon Company, with such luminaries as Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowrowski, this seems like quite a statement to make, but it is quite simply, the truth.
In class, her dancing seems to take on more polish and sophistication with Herrault’s corrections. Of course, after years under his tutelage, her body is a wonderful instrument; the technique is already in her body. But Herrault asks for more and more, pushing her to go beyond any limit, and the result is that the caliber of her dancing is already quite high.
One cannot discount Stix-Brunell’s own drive and determination, and Nature’s gifts: a beautiful body with long legs and pretty feet, a perfectly lovely oval face, and a kind of sensuality and elegance to her movements. But one can also easily imagine that under another teacher’s guidance, this wonderful young dancer might not be able to tap into the fullest breadth of her potential as she is able to do with Herrault. She has been dancing with Morphoses for a year, and continues to be a kind of muse for Wheeldon; she already originated one role in Commedia, and was videotaped dancing his Polyphonia for the official video submission for the Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition, for other young dancers to learn from. The Gods of Dance are smiling upon this pairing of teacher and student, to be sure, and we can only hope to be able to witness the beautiful unfolding of that process and the full realization of her talents on the stage.
Herrault is in great demand as a teacher; he accepts private students at his studio no matter their level of training, for he is quite willing to start at the beginning to help a dancer attain the correct foundation in terms of technique and placement. He teaches a summer intensive at his studio in NY in August that is very popular, and also has guest teaching engagements at Alvin Ailey, the New York International Ballet Competition, and the San Francisco Ballet. He was recently invited to become company ballet master for the Angel Corella Ballet in Spain. While he is open to traveling and accepting guest teaching engagements near and far, his commitment in terms of nurturing young talent in NY and helping dancers of all ages in open classes, remains intact. Run, don’t walk, to Steps on Broadway and take his class, or simply stand and observe by the door, to see some of the most beautiful and complete dancing that can be seen in NY, and enjoy the privilege – it will not leave your memory for some time.