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Clairemarie Osta le Riche in Studio Svalberg at the Royal Swedish Ballet School. Photo Cristian Hillbom

“You need to be a nice personality to be hired. That you are a good dancer is obvious.”

STOCKHOLM: With a new principal of the school – Peter Green – and Clairemarie Osta, former dancer étoile at the Paris Opera as the responsible for the classical dance education at the school, there is an atmosphere of new air under the wings. This is one of the impressions I get talking to Ms. Clairemarie Osta le Riche in her office in Stockholm.

Who is she? Clairemarie Osta grew up in Nice, France. She started to dance at the age of five. Her early days seem to have be harmonious with no pressure whatsoever to” become something” in dance. She said she felt like a dancer from the beginning! This relaxed attitude must have been healthy, while many students of today are torn apart between dreams and expectations.

The private school she went to had athletic training, but let the students perform on stage early. Clairemarie says that she very much appreciated the acting, the mime, the use of the body, the transforming, everything you can do on stage when you perform. This school had no connections with the professional world, she explains, although her teacher was very good.

Eventually she entered the Conservatoire, where a former dancer from the Marquis de Cuevas company told her to go Paris. Young Clairemarie asked why?

“To become a dancer!”

” But I already am!” Clairemarie said…

” Not yet”, was the short answer.

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Clairemarie Osta with Kale Lazarick, Josefine Heidel, Fabian Von Lindern. Photo Cristian Hillbom

At fifteen she went to Paris and after 2 years in the Conservatoire Superieur she joined the school of the Paris Opera, for the last year of education. She says it was unexpected, because she really did not think that was her path. It was also very hard to start this physical challenge so relatively late. It occurs that students come from “outside” to the Paris Opera ballet school, but then maybe you need to be even better, she wonders.

Nevertheless, not even then she felt a pressure to succeed. Her career has developed through her experiences, she remarks several times. She was happy to benefit from all the culture to be found in Paris, le Louvre, with all its art for example. This was very inspiring to her. To become a star in the Paris Opera Ballet one must have a great talent, I wonder? Clairemarie answers that the two years in the Conservatoire she worked extremely hard. In the ballet school here in Stockholm they have the possibility to dedicate more hours and an open mind to different styles, she explains.

Talking about style, what is the alignment in the Paris Opera ballet school?
Clairemarie says that when she now can look back, the French style can be defined as a mixture of influences from Russia [Vaganova] Italy [Cecchetti] and from the north, like Bournonville. She describes how French elegance and Italian virtuosity have come together. Not only in the school but how strong personalities among the artists inspire the teachers. The whole theatre embraces this creativity. Also, choreographers working at the opera made their impacts on the school. She mentions Balanchine, Serge Lifar and specially Nurejev who was very involved in the education.

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Josefine Heidel and Fabian Von Lindern. Photo Cristian Hillbom

Now I am curious about the French, or Parisian, system with different stages that you must pass to make progress in a strict hierarchy. Clairemarie says all the tests were of course stressful. She had also other options, like going to Roland Petit in Marseille or companies in Germany. But, since it went well for her she followed the path into the Paris Opera ballet.

Let's return to the earlier days for a moment. Clairemarie took interest in tap dancing as a child. How come, I ask?
“It began as a hobby on holidays. Then I took some classes for a performance in Nice. Later I broke my foot, and did tap dancing as recovery training, and there was an American teacher in Cannes.”

But obviously there is a little more in this. Her eyes sparkles, and her hands gesticulates vividly when telling me how she deeply enjoys rhythm.

“I really feel comfortable, it is my element”, she says. “After my retirement from the opera I practiced flamenco.”

Madame Osta le Riche received the French legion of honor in 2012. What did that mean to you?
The answer goes beyond her own person. It means a recognition of the artists place in society, not for her own fame but for the development of the arts in the appreciation and value of the culture, the attention from politicians for example. She thinks that France in this way shows respect for the art of ballet and dance internationally.

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Reita Miyashita, Clairemarie Osta, Kale Lazarick, Fabian Von Lindern, Carl Sjögren och Liam Scott. Photo Cristian Hillbom

Now, we need to talk about today! How do you like to live in Stockholm?
Clairemarie is happy to be in Sweden, she says. Coming from Paris, Stockholm is a very peaceful city. But still connective, still a capital but with less people, less noise, less bad air. Really nice quality of life!

Her thoughts regarding the Royal Swedish Ballet School are that there are historic links between France and Sweden. A major issue for her is to contribute with new dynamics and choreographic projects to develop the tradition of today.

About teaching, Clairemarie has no doubt that she was fascinated by teaching already as a child. Of course, the creative period on stage was rewarding, but she had a curiosity about the search for how to do movements, both mechanically, physically and emotionally.

The mentorship between the experienced dancer and the young pupils is of the greatest importance, she says. Her interest led to an ambition to become a master one day. Good teachers sharing their knowledge is invaluable, she says. It is all about to share and transmit. It is not like books or other studies.

The connection between the school and the theatre is nowadays gone in most opera houses in the world and the education has a broader alignment.

Clairemarie has a project with classes on different levels for the students to both be creative and to visit their environments which stem from several eras. She wishes to make the students able to find their best way to express themselves and discover what it is to be an artist.

When Clairemarie arrived in Stockholm it was primarily because her husband was starting his directorship with the Royal Swedish Ballet.

Her vision is to integrate her knowledge from, not exactly the Paris Opera school, but a very professional approach into the Swedish student’s reality. Clairemarie is aware that the Swedish society is different and that she can´t copy the exact model that she grew up with. It is a challenge for her to make a balance for the kids to understand how to become an artist. She wishes to create a dynamic atmosphere.

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Rehearsal with a piece from Paquita. Photo Cristian Hillbom

Her impression is that her students are very passionate and understands the work they need to do. It seems to exist new links between companies in Europe as well as in Sweden to have students as apprentices at the theatre. This is her goal for the school. Connection to the professional world is very important.

Clairemarie emphasizes the good will she has experienced since she started her work. In meetings with the board, she experiences that people are willing to listen to each other and discuss ideas.

With new people and projects both at the Opera house and the company and in the school the changes are already notable, people feel a difference, she says.

She describes a very positive attitude with a good will and suggestions for improvements, everybody participates in the work. She says she really hope this mood of moving forward will stay and continue to be strong.

On a question about the financial situation of the school, she explains that the new headmaster has a background in economics which makes a solid and stable ground. There are always problems to be solved and more money needed but Clairemarie does not seem worried in this matter. She says you always must be careful in big institutions with many people employed but the staff working with the funds has her confidence. It seems to be enough money for planned projects, she adds with a big smile.

Clairemarie has a strong opinion about a very important question. It is about how to select people trying to become dancers.

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Felicia Andersson and Carl Sjögren. Photo Cristian Hillbom

“It is a great challenge to see what a dancer can do, what is their special talent. We have a possibility to find it. You need to have patience, you wait a year, and someone can have a fantastic development.”

“You need to work together with a student. To be able to adapt in some ways to help a student to bloom, is one thing that might not be possible in Paris. It's not only better, it can even be great! Small boys can be taken care of, and when they are ready get into real classes.”

At first these things seemed impossible to her, but she realized that it can be done and Clairemarie is enthusiastic.

On a question about the school in Gothenburg a better cooperation is about to be established, as she sees it.

The contemporary and classical lines in the school divides not until in high school, and Clairemarie says the sculpting of the body in ballet is important for all future dancers.

Many students are versatile in style, but it ends with where your taste and inspiration are. They try to organize the schedule to fit all these needs. To be a pure classical dancer the recipe is special and important.

She explains how she understands the ways of a dancer’s personality and interests and how the school tries to meet them.

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Standing from left: Inka Keränen, Marina Antonova Albouy, Reita Miyashita, Carl Sjögren, Liam Scott, Kale Lazarick, Vilhelm Koskela, Fabian Von Lindern, Clairemarie Osta, Janna Mattsson Sarkisova, Guy Albouy. On knee: Ida Laukkanen, Josefine Heidel, Felicia Andersson. Photo Cristian Hillbom

To dancers in audition in front of a choreographer, she gives her advice.

“You need to be a nice personality to be hired. That you are a good dancer is obvious. You have maybe two minutes to show this! These people know in minutes with who they want to work. This has nothing to do with how many pirouettes you can do.”

How do you feel about the future?
“First, change is welcome!”

“There will be changes of the days schedule in blocks, there is no more to go from a ballet class early in the morning to a lesson in math. This is a huge and very important change. Many thought it would be difficult but when everybody agreed it could be done.” With the change, says Clairemarie, trust is coming back in the school.

I point out that the school of the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Stockholm has now the best overall grades in the city. This is a really good result. Students with special interests often make good accomplishment in all areas.

All in all, there is some new (maybe French) winds blowing in the school.

Marie Louise Waldenström
21 January 2019

Jag ville bara dansa
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