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Smile to the pressure – Concours 2020

In the middle of the global pandemic, a Concours de Promotion (promotional contest) took place at the Paris Opera Ballet on 15th and 17th April 2021. Originally planned for November every year, the Concours 2020 was postponed due to the Coronavirus epidemic…… After a few months of lockdown, the dancers were not ready for this contest and the the sanitary restrictions made it too complicated to organise.

So, another concours is over ! This one was special in every way…… Firstly, for the first time, there were no performance nor rehearsals during the preparation of this Concours, as the theatres are still closed in France…… This left us much more energy and time to focus on the preparation unlike the other years. As the stage was free, the company also provided with a few classes on the stage before the D-Day so we could get used to the energy of the stage before. As there were much fewer rehearsals, finding a studio for practice had never been so easy.

Around 3 weeks before, as the French government just announced another national lockdown, that was the moment when we started the preparation, with an unprecedented uncertainty…… While dancers were still allowed to continue rehearsing in the studios, all the performances had to, once again, be cancelled. The Paris Opera Ballet decided nevertheless to keep the Concours de Promotion, but this time, not open to public. 

So as we started practicing the two variations that we would have to present, somehow I was much less nervous than the other times. We learned from the past year that everything could possibly be cancelled at anytime and that we’d never know what would happen the next day. So I learned to focus on the “present”, one day at a time, and stop anticipating or worrying about tomorrow. 

The first compulsory variation was announced : La Sylphide, James’ second variation, Act II (Pierre Lacotte) Great ! I had always wanted to do La Sylphide at Concours. This also reminds me of 2018’s Concours, when La Sylphide was the announced variation, but that I got injured a few days before the D-Day…… Jean-Guillaume Bart, a former Etoile and now teacher at the company, gave me the idea to choose Zaël’s solo in his ballet La Source as my second variation. Very touched by his kind help, I accepted to start working on it without hesitation. 

The preparation was going very well, and without thinking for a second about the results of this Concours, i.e. promotion or disappointment, I enjoyed every minute of it.  It was a little shocking to figure out that I was actually the “oldest” candidate of the class ! What !? Seriously? This is all a mental game…… Competing with yesterday’s “me” and not with the others, easier said than done, but this time I think I succeeded ! Each day learning from yesterday’s imperfections, and getting inspired by others’ qualities…… I went to try the costumes of La Source, the green costume which is the original costume of Zaël’s role, then the blue one, which one is better? 

Around 10 days before the Concours, drama! The ballet shop where I ordered 15 pairs of ballet shoes called and told me that due to the lockdown in many countries, they had logistics issues and couldn’t deliver the shoes in time…… Ten days is a really short time to get them dyed and prepared, total panic ! Luckily, the shop Bloch very kindly offered me their helping hand and I got plenty of shoes from them, which are very good ! I was saved. 

From the day-1 of the preparation, I knew that pressure, stage fright and negative thoughts would come sooner or later. Even though the practicing went perfectly well, a few days before, negative thoughts were still there…… “What if I miss that turn? What if I fall on the floor ? What if I mess that up ? What if………..” Promotion or not, the results, being so important and soon, also came to the mind. After all, a promotion would completely change our career path until the retirement, there were 2 positions for 14 of us…… 

We had the Répétition Générale (last dress rehearsal and technical run) the day before the Concours. Usually, when it goes well, we are worried that we’d not do as well the next day because, as the saying goes, “we have already given our all……”. If it doesn’t go well, we panic! It’s a little too late to fix major problems and we keep a bad memory our performance on stage and thus lose confidence. As for me, the Générale went very well, but this year, I was determined to do even better the next day. And I did…… to my surprise. 

After a sleepless night (it became a pre-concours ritual now!), here I was, on the day of the concours, it was 6 am. The pressure, negative thoughts, doubts, stage fright…… my « friends » ! They were there ! Like in a meditation, I acknowledged their presence, said hi, and smiled to them. In the wings, while waiting for my turn, this is one of the most intense experiences in my life ! The nerves paralyse my physical sensations, and it just seemed impossible to dance! But I smiled to the experience and embraced everything there was. 

Costume in my changing room on the day of the Concours

I was so satisfied with my performance that I said (to whichever spirit or God who might be listening) while walking out from the Opera, that “I am so grateful for this experience, for this preparation, and all that this Concours taught and brought me, no matter how the results will be, I am deeply happy.” The second I finished the phrase, my phone vibrated, an email, the ranking ! First…… 

After 5 concours, I know too well the disappointment, despair and maybe anger that one could feel for not being chosen or ranked. After all, for 2 happy laureates there are 12 others who are in a much less joyous mood. My warmest thoughts and regards to them.

My deepest gratitude to you all, to those in my path who made this happen. Thank you. Together let’s embrace all that Life has to offer, and smile to the pressure

Ranking and results at the backstage door of Palais Garnier

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