Elisabeth Platel
Danseuse étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet

Elisabeth Platel was born in Paris on 10 April 1959.

One of the most acclaimed and admired French ballerinas of the last two decades of the 20th century, Elisabeth Platel incarnates for many the French School at its purest and its most sublime. For others she remains one of the rare authentic ballerinas of her generation.

Elisabeth Platel's first steps as a dancer were coincidental. Her parents were not engaged in the world of ballet or theatre, although Elisabeth's mother danced a little in her time. Yet, as was quite customary in those years - the mid-sixties - many young girls were advised to take dancing lessons in order to enhance their physical appearances or improve their health. Elisabeth Platel first entered the Conservatoire de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where she acquired a firm choreographical and musical base, before she was introduced by her teacher to Christiane Vaussard, former étoile of the Paris Opera and now a distinguished professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. Christiane Vaussard immediately took the young Platel under her wings and became the key figure in her development as a dancer.

Between 1971 and 1975 Platel studied at the Conservatoire de Paris. She graduated with First Prize, which allowed her to complete her studies at the Paris Opera School (L'Ecole de Danse de l'Opéra), 1975-1976. Other influential teachers of Platel were Pierre Lacotte, who worked with her in the Paris Opera School and Raymond Franchetti, who owned a studio where the budding dancer was able to watch professional artists taking class, among others soloists from the Paris Opera like Noëlla Pontois, or guest stars like Rudolf Nureyev.

In 1976 Elisabeth Platel was engaged in the Paris Opera Ballet, as "quadrille" in the corps de ballet. She was 17. She swiftly conquered the successive ranks of the company's hierarchy. The following year she was already promoted to " coryphée ". In 1978 she became " sujet " and obtained a Silver medal (Junior Prize) in the International Ballet Competition at Varna. That same year she danced her first soloist roles in ballets by George Balanchine, Divertimento No. 15 and The Four Temperaments. Balanchine, who always retained a rewarding relationship with the Paris Opera, became one of Platel's favourite choreographers (she considers him " the choreographer of the 20th century"), although she never had the opportunity to work with the famous choreographer personally.

In 1979, at nineteen, she was appointed " première danseuse ".

Elisabeth Platel was selected by Maurice Béjart to perform in Life with Jean Babilée in 1979. The following year she also performed "The Chosen One" in Béjart's Le sacre du printemps.

In 1981 Platel started to prepare her first great classical ballet, La Sylphide with Pierre Lacotte, her former teacher. La Sylphide, this landmark work from 1832 which introduced romanticism in ballet and made Marie Taglioni a world famous ballerina, became one of Platel's signature roles during her career at the Paris Opera.

In that same year she also learned and danced the leading roles in Swan Lake, Paquita, and Giselle. At the issue of her debut as Giselle on 23 December 1981 she was nominated "étoile".

When Rudolf Nureyev was invited in 1981 to mount his Don Quixote for the Paris Opera, he chose Platel to dance the Queen of the Dryads. Nureyev often gave very young dancers a chance in his ballets. For Platel it meant the beginning of a successful artistic collaboration with Nureyev, who became, especially when he was director of the Paris Opera Ballet (1983-1989), one of the most important figures in her career.

In 1983, Rudolf Nureyev mounted his first full-length ballet as recently appointed director of the Paris Opera Ballet, Marius Petipa's late masterpiece Raymonda. Elisabeth Platel was chosen to dance the title role at the premiere, with Charles Jude as Jean de Brienne. (Elisabeth Platel later danced Raymonda as a guest artist with the Bolshoi Ballet.) The following year she created the roles of Odette/Odile in Nureyev's new version of Swan Lake for the Paris Opera. Swan Lake is her most frequently performed ballet. Nureyev also entrusted her with the creation of the leading roles in his versions of The Sleeping Beauty (1989) and his final work for the Paris Opera La Bayadère (as Gamzatti - 1992; later Platel also danced Nikiya). Her performance as Gamzatti has been preserved on video.

During her career at the Paris Opera, Platel danced most of the company's vast and rich repertoire. Next to the choreographers already mentioned, she also danced ballets by Lifar, Robbins, MacMillan, Forsythe, Nikolaïs, Childs, Armitage, van Manen, van Dantzig, and Neumeier. Especially with John Neumeier she developed a fruitful and lasting rapport ever since she appeared in his Vaslaw in 1980 when she was "premiere danseuse". Later she also danced in his Magnificat, Nutcracker, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Sylvia. Neumeier is one of the few choreographers who continued to work with Platel throughout her career. With Petipa (mainly through the transcriptions of Nureyev) and Balanchine, he is one of Platel's favourite choreographers.

9 July 1999: Farewell performance of Elisabeth Platel as danseuse étoile of the Paris Opera in La Sylphide. Opera rules require female étoiles to retire at 40 (male étoiles retires at 45). For the occasion she performed with two of her favourite partners, Nicolas Le Riche and Manuel Legris, who danced the role of James in the 1st and the 2nd Act respectively.

Following her official adieux Elisabeth Platel continued to perform with the Paris Opera as "etoile invitee" (principal guest artist). In 2000 she performed La Bayadere and Raymonda, in 2001 A Midsummer Night's Dream. On 20 January 2003 she took part in the Gala performance for Rudolf Nureyev at the Palais Garnier, dancing the variation from Raymonda Act III.

On 21, 22 April 2001 Elisabeth Platel and a group of Paris Opera dancers performed in Moscow at the Kremlin Palace. Platel with her partner Yann Saïz danced Tchaikovsky pas de deux and La dame aux camélias pas de deux.

For years Platel has been active as a teacher and repetiteur, among others assisting Claude Bessy (staging Suite en Blanc in 1996 and Daphnis and Chloe in 1998 in Rio de Janeiro) and Pierre Lacotte (for the revival of his Sylphide in Rio in 1997, as well as his Paquita in 2001 in Paris). She was a teacher at the Paris Opera during the 2002-2003 season.

Elisabeth Platel succeeded Claude Bessy as director of the Ecole de Danse at the beginnning of the 2004-2005 season.

Elisabeth Platel has been a guest artist with Royal Ballet (London), Danish Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, Ballet of the Vienna Opera, Ballet of the Berlin Opera, National Ballet of Finland, Bolshoi Ballet, Kirov Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Municipal Theatre in Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio de Janeiro she mounted Suite en Blanc (1996) by Serge Lifar and La Sylphide (1997) by Pierre Lacotte.

Elisabeth Platel is a recipient of:

1982: Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Ballet (for her role in La Sylphide).
1983: West End Theatres Award (London).
1998: Prix Massine.
1999: Benois de la Danse.
She is also " Chevalier des Arts et Lettres ", and " Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur ".

Elisabeth Platel can be seen on the following videos :

* Les Noces, Paris Opera Ballet (1990), as the Bride.
* Grand Pas Classique (1993) (Nina Ananiashvili and International Stars, III).
* Don Quixote, variation 3rd Act (1993), (Nina Ananiashvili and International Stars, IV).
* La Bayadère, Paris Opera Ballet (1994), as Gamzatti.

Her repertoire includes:

Le Spectre de la rose, (Fokine), young girl (1978).
Divertimento No. 15 (Balanchine), soloist (1978).
The Four Temperaments (Balanchine), third theme (1978).
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Balanchine), pas de deux (1979).
Life (Béjart), soloist 1979.
Serait-ce la mort ? (Béjart), soloist 1979.
The Sleeping Beauty (Petipa, staged Alonso), Lilac Fairy (1979).
Schema (Nikolaïs), soloist (1980).
Le sacre du printemps (M. Béjart), The chosen one (1980).
Vaslaw (J. Neumeier), (1980).
Giselle (Petipa after Coralli Perrot, staged Alonso), Myrtha (1980).
La Sylphide (Lacotte after Taglioni), title role (1981).
Swan Lake (Bourmeister after Petipa, Ivanov), Odette-Odile (1981).
Giselle (Petipa after Coralli Perrot, staged Alonso), title role (1981).
Paquita (Vinogradov after Petipa), title role (1981).
Don Quixote (Nureyev after Petipa), Queen of the Dryads (1981).
Three preludes (Stevenson), soloist (1981).
Le chant du rossignol (Massine), the nightingale (1981).
The Sleeping Beauty (Petipa, Nijinska, staged Hightower) princess Aurora (1982).
Voluntaries (Tetley), soloist (1982).
Serenade (Balanchine), soloist (1982).
Pas de quatre (Dolin), Lucille Grahn (1982).
Raymonda (Nureyev after Petipa), title role (1983).
Don Quixote (Nureyev after Petipa) Kitri (1983).
Agon (Balanchine), pas de deux (1983).
La Bayadère Act III (Kingdom of the Shades) (Nureyev after Petipa - Royal Ballet, London), Nikiya (1984).
Marco Spada (Lacotte after Mazillier), Marquise (1984).
Violin Concerto (Balanchine), soloist (1984).
Carnaval (Fokine), Estrella (1984).
Premier Orage (Childs), soloist (cr) (1984).
Swan Lake (Nureyev after Petipa, Ivanov), Odette-Odile (1984).
Coppelia (Skouratoff - Ballet de Bordeaux), Swanilda (1985).
Palais de Cristal (Symphony in C) (Balanchine), 2nd movement (1985).
Concerto Barocco (Balanchine), soloist (1985).
Before Nightfall (Christie), soloist (1985).
Jardin aux Lilas (Tudor), Caroline (1985).
Song of the Earth (MacMillan), soloist (1985).
La Sonnambula ((Balanchine - Ballet de Nancy), title role (1985).
Sonate à trois (Béjart), soloist (1986)
Manfred (Nureyev), the countess (1986).
Cinderella (Nureyev), title role (1986).
Grosse Fugue (Van Manen), soloist (1986).
Apollo (Balanchine), Terpsichore (1987).
Symphony in Three Movements (Balanchine), soloist (1987).
Sans Armes Citoyens! (Van Dantzig), Woman of the people (1987).
Magnificat (Neumeier), soloist (cr) (1987).
Suite en blanc (Lifar), soloist (1987).
Four Last Songs (Van Dantzig), soloist (1987).
Les anges ternis (Armitage), soloist (cr) (1987).
Etudes (Lander), soloist (1988).
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (Forsythe), soloist (1988).
Notre-Dame de Paris (Petit), Esmeralda (1988).
The Sleeping Beauty (Nureyev after Petipa), princess Aurora (1989).
Les Présages (Massine), soloist (1989).
In The Night (Robbins), soloist (1989).
Le Fils prodigue (Balanchine), the Siren (1989).
Sinfonietta (Kylian), soloist (1990).
Les Noces (Nijinska), the bride (1990).
Variations (Lifar), 1st variation (1990).
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Neumeier), Titania (1991).
Les Biches (Nijinska), chanson dansée "la Garçonne " (1991).
Glass Pieces (Robbins), soloist (1991).
Dances at a Gathering (Robbins), soloist (1991).
La dame aux camélias (Neumeier - Hamburg Ballet), Marguerite (1992).
La Bayadère (Nureyev after Petipa), Gamzatti (1992).
Les forains (Petit) (1993).
The Nutcracker (Neumeier) (1993).
Till Eulenspiegel (after Nijinski) (1994).
La Bayadère (Nureyev after Petipa), Nikiya (1995).
Rhapsody (Ashton), soloist (1996).
Allegro brillante (Balanchine), soloist (1996).
Sylvia (Neumeier), (1997).

Sources :

* Elisabeth Platel, by Monique Babsky, in : International Dictionary of Ballet, volume II, 1993.
* Press material of the Paris Opera.
* Platel tire sa révérence. La reine Elisabeth. Interview with Elisabeth Platel, in: Danser, juin 1999.
* Interview with Elisabeth Platel by Marc Haegeman, in: Ballet Alert, October 1999.

Marc Haegeman, 2001

Last update - 19.03.2005
Small Ballet Encyclopedia url: http://www.ballet.classical.ru/