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PNB’s New French Dancers Are Si Charmants  
Rosie Gaynor

Posted October 29, 2007


    The first thing you notice about the two talented French dancers new to Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) is that they are absolutely charming.  


Liora Reshef (photo by Angela Sterling)

    They are Liora Reshef and J鲴me Tisserand, ages 19 and 20, the former from Paris and the latter from Lyon. Apart from the nerve-wracking wait for visas that each experienced, there are not a lot of similarities in the long journeys they’ve taken to PNB. 

J鲴me Tisserand (photo by Angela Sterling)

    Liora Reshef’s interest in dance began when, at the age of two, she saw her first ballet on TV. Her first class followed not too long afterwards, when she was four. “It wasn’t really ballet,” she notes, “We were just running around.”  

    She began her formal studies when she was seven or eight, training at a small school with Dominique Khalfouni. Ballet is passed from one dancer to another; so, too, I think, is style. A Washington Times 1990 review said of former Paris Op鲡 鴯ile Khalfouni that “the perfume of her loveliness [lingered] long after each of her exits.” You could say the same of Reshef: there is a precise delicacy to her movements that stays with you even when the dance is over.  

    Reshef found her way to Seattle via the Prix de Lausanne competition, in which she was twice a semi-finalist. PNB’s former co-artistic director Kent Stowell saw her dance there in 2004 and invited her to come study at PNB. She would have been about 14: that’s pretty young to move across the ocean all by yourself. The following year, co-artistic director Francia Russell extended the invitation again, and Reshef accepted. She joined the school that same year, on full scholarship.  

    Only 16, Reshef moved to Seattle. She lived with a host family her first year here. Although Reshef had studied English—and Italian and German and Latin—she said the linguistic transition was not an easy one: she was used to British accents rather than American. “I had no idea what was going on,” she laughed. “I couldn’t understand what people were saying.” That is certainly not the case now; she speaks English fluently. 

    Ballet classes around the world have a common language. Stylistically, however, ballet is different on this side of the Atlantic. “There were so many things my teachers wanted me to change,” said Reshef, talking about her first year here. “I was scared that I would lose what I’d had before. I felt like I wasn’t finishing my training but starting another one. I had to forget what I had done before… You have to just understand that they don’t want you to change everything, just add to what you had before. It took me a while to understand that.” 

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    Company director Peter Boal noticed Reshef during the first week of a summer course two years ago when he came to Seattle. Then last spring he and his wife worked with her more closely, preparing her for  Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux for the PNB School performance. “She’s like a miniature, newborn version of a ballerina—so complete,” he said about Reshef. “The whole body is involved in every movement, not just a limb… She was a pleasure to work with.”  

    During her two years as a student at PNB, Reshef danced with the company in Symphony in Three Movements, The Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, and Swan Lake. At the end of her studies, Reshef had the opportunity to have a  duet choreographed on her by Olivier Wevers. “It was [my] first time. It was really great,” she said, and then laughed. “But the first time I was alone with him I was scared to death!” Although she knew Wevers and they have French in common, “he was a principal in the company,” she explained.  

     Wevers named the piece after Reshef and her partner, Andrew Bartee. Liora and Andrew appeared in PNB’s Choreographers’ Showcase in June. Reshef did a lovely job with it; her dancing was neat and clean—and charming.  

    In September this petite brunette joined the PNB company roster as an apprentice. She now takes classes with the company and she appeared in the corps of Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial in the season opener. 

    PNB’s other French dancer, J鲴me Tisserand, came to Seattle by a more circuitous route. He started dancing in his hometown, at the conservatory of Lyon. “I was about 11 years old…I didn’t really like it.” However, the following year he was accepted into the ballet school of the Op鲡 national de Paris. Quite a coup, seeing as how this nearly 300-year-old school has only 150 students. (This figure is from Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet, a documentary I highly recommend). “It’s hard to leave your family when you’re 12,” he said. And the school, he added, was very strict—and rather restricting. “They don’t let you go out from Sunday night to Friday night. Everything is in the same building, so you have school, ballet, dinner—all in the same building.”  

    At the end of his third year, said Tisserand, the school wanted to hold him back because he was too small. He returned to Lyon instead, continuing his training there and participating in several competitions. One of the people he met at a competition suggested he study with Miami City Ballet. I have to wonder if it was because this dancer with his beautiful French carriage, is a jumper: Miami City Ballet was founded by famed Edward Villella who was a jumper too.  

    Tisserand was very young at the time, about 15. He and his parents, however, thought that training in the U.S. represented a great opportunity. “In France, you basically have Paris Op鲡,” he said. “In the U.S. there is so much more. Here you have five or six major companies.” 

    He attended two summer programs at Miami City Ballet, and then at 17 went on to study for two years at the School of American Ballet in New York, where Villella himself had received his training.  

    It was there that Tisserand met and studied with Boal. A year later, Boal left SAB for Seattle; and the following year, Tisserand left SAB for an apprenticeship with Miami City Ballet. Earlier this fall, however, he joined Boal at PNB, as a member of the corps de ballet. When asked about why he hired Tisserand, Boal said, “There’s something very engaging about him. He has a great enthusiasm, a great energy, a great jump.” Plus, said Boal, Tisserand really wanted to be here. Passion, it seems, still counts for something. 

    Tisserand danced two ballets in the season opener (Square Dance and Ballet Imperial) and he is rehearsing a piece that appears in the November rep: Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, a piece he has performed with Miami City Ballet.  

    One experience these two young French dancers do have in common is a sudden exposure to Balanchine. Both are fans. “They don’t do enough Balanchine in Europe,” said Tisserand. “Here it’s really all about Balanchine.” When asked if he liked his first taste of Balanchine, Tisserand replied, “I didn’t at first, when I got to SAB I was still…classical… I was used to watching  story ballets. The first few Balanchine that I saw, there was no story. For me it was just dancing to dance. I didn’t understand it at first.”  

    “Movement without meaning,” added Reshef. 

    “But then,” Tisserand continued, Reshef nodding, “you watch more of it and you realize what a great choreographer he was… The movements, the patterns, the formation of the corps—it’s really genius.” Reshef calls Balanchine “more extreme,” which leads so wonderfully to the epithet Extreme Ballet. 

    When asked about the future—where they want to go, where they want to be—both say: right here. They are fans of Seattle and fans of PNB. “Go, PNB!” cheers Reshef.

    The company is welcoming, they say, and they like the facilities. Tisserand recalled his studio in Lyon: “We didn’t have heat in the winter; it was extremely cold.” And he noted  with satisfaction that unlike in Lyon, he is not the only male dancer in the class. It is pretty clear to see why this matters: I had an opportunity to watch company class last week; during the combinations (after warm up), it so happened that Tisserand and the stellar Jonathan Porretta were up at the same time. I was struck by how much Tisserand’s dancing improved just by moving side by side with this amazing principal dancer.  

    Another benefit, according to Tisserand, is the convenient proximity of  McCaw Hall. “It’s a beautiful theater,” he said, adding that the stage is great to dance on. At the Palais Garnier (Op鲡 national de Paris), he noted, the stage is raked. ”It’s very hard if you’re not used to it… It changes a lot. At the Prix de Lausanne, which I also did, it’s also a raked stage. I had been dancing in a raked studio so I was fine, but I remember everyone else was practicing 10 pirouettes in the back and then when they get onstage they couldn’t do two!” 

    It’ll be interesting to watch these two talented young dancers grow at PNB. We’re likely to see them again soon, in Nutcracker. Both are learning roles for that show:  the Sword Doll for Tisserand and the Ballerina Doll for Reshef. What could be more charming? 

    Note: If you are Reshef and Tisserand’s age, you might be interested in PNB’s special offer:  2 for $25…for those 25 and under…to the November 2 performance of Contemporary Classics. Call 206-441-2424 for more information.


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