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PARIS--It was between rehearsals for her final interpretation of Mats Ek's Giselle, in her cozy Palais Gamier dressing room, that Marie-Claude Pietragalla paused to give an interview. Across the street from the opera house, her name was plastered on the billboards of the Galeries Lafayette, where her latest creation, a monthlong moving fashion show, was underway. Her performances in Giselle were hailed by the local press, and she was warmly received by an enthusiastic sell-out crowd. But her mind was no longer in Paris.

In September 1998, she simultaneously announced her resignation from the Paris Opera Ballet and began working in Marseilles, where she is replacing Roland Petit as the director of the Ballet de Marseille and its prestigious dance school. Within hours, she was in the south of France, back in the studio, dancing alongside her company as they worked through the steps of their brand-new repertory.

When the city of Marseilles announced last March that it had chosen Pietragalla to replace Petit, who at seventy-four had decided to step down, the thirty-five-year-old dancer thought that she would be able to wear two hats. Running the Ballet de Marseille and its adjacent school while maintaining her engagements with the Paris Opera Ballet, where she has danced since 1979, seemed feasible. On the day of her nomination, she announced that she would "maintain the repertoire of Roland Petit, keep it alive."

All of that changed, however, when Petit announced, shortly after her nomination, that he was leaving the company and taking his choreography with him. No longer would they have the right to perform his original creations without prior consent; the sets and costumes would be rented for any future performances.

"I wasn't expecting that," says Pietragalla. "I thought there would at least be something left over. I was put in a difficult position because I had to re-create a new ballet, start from scratch. There was nothing left except the building. It is a brand-new company, as if I had recruited forty-five dancers!"

By September, Pietragalla had announced her plans to leave the Paris Opera Ballet, reassuring the public that her resignation was in no way comparable to the tumultuous departures of Patrick Dupond and Sylvie Guillem. "Au contraire," Pietragalla repeated several times during the interview. "I am not divorcing the Paris Opera Ballet, I am simply getting married to Marseilles."

Upon her fall arrival in this southern port city, Pietragalla immediately increased the ballet from thirty-six to forty-five dancers. She did away with the company's hierarchy, claiming that "soloists are soloists; they don't need to announce it." She is determined to create a tight company. "Symbolically speaking, I want this company to be like a family," she says, "one which operates like that of Pina Bausch or William Forsythe." She plans to incorporate both classical ballets and contemporary dance in the repertory and is hoping to create a bond between Marseilles and various other national ballets in France.

"I feel quite good because I am the captain of this ship," Pietragalla adds. "I think [the dancers] understand that this is a risk for me, because I am pretty young to take over a company. It is a risk for them, too, because we are all in the same boat."

On January 2, Pietragalla ends her contract with the Paris Opera Ballet in a final performance of Don Quichotte, the very same ballet for which she was promoted to etoile in 1990.
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Title Annotation:dancer Marie-Claud Pietragalla to head Ballet de Marseille, France
Author:Bauer, Karyn
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1999

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