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Jeune Ballet de France.

When the annual festival Les Rencontres Internationales de la Danse (International Dance Encounters) convenes this summer on the Brittany coast, the centerpiece will be a small company of young dancers who have worked together for less than a year. These dancers are part of Jeune Ballet de France, a touring company which enables developing dancers to acquire performing experience.

In 1983 Robert Berthier, director of Young Musicians of France, decided to provide young dancers with an opportunity similar to that offered to novice musicians. He had been hearing complaints from various companies that dancers graduating from French conservatories had far too little stage experience.

That was the genesis of Jeune Ballet de France (JBF).. The company of fourteen to sixteen dancers is equally divided between boys and girls who range in age from sixteen to twenty. Although he originally enlisted only French dancers, Berthier now chooses company members at international dance competitions and through exchange programs with schools worldwide.

Remarkable development is common during the first year. With ballet master Jean Marion's help the young dancers polish their technique, refine their sense of style, and increase their confidence in performing. Although in theory a dancer may be asked to return for a second year, actually this rarely happens. Most are snatched up by professional companies before the end of their first season with JBF.

Through a rigorous touring schedule, which includes performances for both school and adult audiences, JBF gives its young dancers international exposure. In 1 990, after several years of performing throughout France, the company began touring internationally. When JBF was invited to perform in Israel by a junior dance company in Nazareth, Berthier invited French choreographer Nadine Hernu to create a ballet for both groups. The result was so successful that invitations soon followed from schools in Perm, Russia, and Ankara, Turkey. JBF encourages the creation of new choreography, much of which involves amalgamations of classical, modern, contemporary, and folk styles.

In 1986 the indefatigable Berthier, founder as well of the Modern Dance Festival in Montpellier, France, was asked to organize a dance festival at the Fench seaside resort of La Baule. The annual festival, Les Rencontres Internationales de la Danse, invites prominent dance schools from around the world to a week of classes and performances. Berthier, who is very careful in choosing participants, emphasizes that the festival is in no sense a competition.

The 1995 festival included dancers from France, Hong Kong, Russia, and the United States. Young dancers from the Conservatoire de Lyon presented a stylistically pure Les Sylphides, while the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts delighted with both traditional Chinese dancing and modern dance. Students from Seoul presented classical ballet and a work by Korean choreographer An Ae Soon. From Ufa, Russia, where Rudolf Nureyev studied, came a duet from Song of the Stork, the ballet reputed to have inspired the young Nureyev to become a dancer. The dance department from the State University of New York at Purchase won kudos for its energy, vitality, and homogeneity as a group in spite of varied personalities and backgrounds.

JBF is always a major contributor to the summer festival, assuming about fifty percent of the performing workload. Because the current crop of dancers are usually on their way out, incoming JBF dancers are also present at La Baule, taking daily classes and learning the repertoire. Current dancers help teach the novices works from the repertoire. Learning four ballets in five days gives the dancers an idea of what will be in store for them at JBF!

Immediately after La Baule, the new JBF dancers go to Paris, where the non-French dancers needing housing are settled in apartments next to the studio. Although the dancers come from diverse backgrounds and often don't even speak the same language, they are bound together by ballet and their desire to dane.

By the end of August the company must be ready to perform. This ends the trial period, and dancers are selected to perform on the tour. In 1995, JBF's tour began in October with sixty school performances throughout France. The company also traveled to China in January 1996 and, joined by a junior company from Beijing, performed throughout that country. JBF has recently made appearances in Cambodia, Korea, and Indonesia--often bringing contemporary choreography to audiences who have never seen this kind of dancing before.

Departing dancers are unanimous in recognizing and appreciating the opportunities afforded them. They are convinced that, at their age, in no other company would they have had the chance to learn so much and to dance such a varied repertoire of classical, neoclassical, and contemporary works. As a result of the constant support and encouragement of both Robert Berthier and his assistant Alain Fourgeaux, the young dancers learn such things as how to be well groomed both on and off stage, how to present themselves, and other social behavior. In addition, many learn to speak fluent French. It is no wonder that so many companies are delighted to welcome the graduates of the Jeune Ballet de France.
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Title Annotation:junior touring company
Author:Veldhuis, Jenny
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:May 1, 1996
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