Paris Opera: Farewell to the stage by Ould-Braham

Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back…

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

… where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?

Sonnet 65, by You Know Who.

When, this May 18th, a principal dancer no-one on the planet—unless French or Algerian—had ever heard of, namely Myriam Ould-Braham, took her leave of the Paris Opera Ballet in Giselle, a cascade of events in the mind of the public occurred so unexpected, that they must be brought to the attention of us all, including those who think they despise the ballet.

Though exceptionally beautiful—huge green eyes, snow-white skin, exquisite features of great sweetness, set off by a torrent of golden-bronze curls—Ould-Braham’s career and international notoriety have been severely dented by the Zeitgeist, in an environment raked by video-games and destructive rage. She is small, slight and extremely fragile, too fragile in fact for the brutal choreography playing havoc with the troupe until José Martinez took over as Director of the ballet in 2023.

Having repeatedly been injured, she never quite attained the heights we had all hoped and prayed for, when she first burst into public view 24 years ago, followed a year or two later by a performance as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, which owing to its creativity, set off shock-waves in the recesses of the mind.

However, Ould-Braham, an artist incapable of a single coarse, vulgar, self-seeking gesture, has so much beauty in her thoughts, so much love spilling from the heart, that she has ever attracted and especially fostered, everything that is good in other people, including her colleagues who all, including more technically-proficient rivals, are stirred by a kind of awe before her. Somehow, Ould-Braham has figured out “Where the Monkey Sleeps,” and though it cannot, of course, be explained, it is no less perfectly real.

As for the men in the Paris Opera, all have vied to partner her, to the point where Matthias Heymann apparently stated at one point, that he preferred to dance with no-one else.

Many written by non-professional journalists, the reports of her farewell performance this May 18th, which ended in a twenty-minute long standing ovation, speak of the mysterious, positive force emanating from her dancing.

One cannot do better than reproduce some passages here. (For those who prefer the original French, it precedes the translation.)

Il y avait le sentiment que Myriam Ould-Braham montrait l’aboutissement de sa carrière lors de cette représentation. Notamment le deuxième acte, qui fut comme son chef-d’œuvre personnel. Ses années de travail l’ont amené à cela, à cet acte qui fut comme un moment suspendu. Tout avait un sens, tout était si intensément abouti : ce travail de mains, de bras, de pieds, de style. Tout avait une intention profonde et sincère, comme si tout avait été immensément réfléchi depuis vingt ans pour arriver à ce point culminant. Des deux côtés de la scène, il y avait ce sentiment de concentration absolue. Comme si chacun et chacune – la danseuse comme le public – voulait profiter de chaque seconde et garder en mémoire tous les gestes de ce deuxième acte. Du premier rang de l’orchestre au fin fond des cinquièmes loges là encore, pas un bruit n’est venu perturber ce moment un peu hors du temps. Ce sont ses mains qui partirent les dernières, englouties dans la tombe de Giselle, comme cherchant à rester en scène encore une seconde de plus.

At this final performance, one felt that Myriam Ould-Braham had reached the pinnacle of her career. Especially in Act II, which was in a way, a personal masterpiece. Years of work had led up to it, to this Act where time stood still. Everything carried meaning, every gesture was intensely thought through : the work on the hands, arms, feet, the style. Reflecting a deep and serious intent, as though it had all been thought over for twenty years, to attain this highest peak. Amongst the public and the dancers on stage, utter concentration. As though every soul present – the ballerina, the public – willed to live each instant to the full, imprint every gesture in the mind’s eye … From the first row of the parterre right up to the Gods, not a single sound was heard that might have impinged upon a moment frozen in time. As Myriam sank down into the grave, her hands were last to vanish, as though seeking the stage for one further instant.

Lorsque Giselle-Ould Braham nous quitte définitivement en repartant dans sa tombe, elle nous revient, tout aussi sobre dans ses saluts, et reçoit vingt minutes d’une ovation absolue venue d’un public qui sait ce qu’il vient de vivre, et qu’il ne revivra plus.

So discreet as to be nigh-invisible on social networks and even in the mainstream media, Myriam Ould-Braham may be (the very last?) proof that one can be cherished in the public’s heart, meanwhile leading a retiring private life. Mysterious, not out of calculation, but owing to her sincere nature. In life, she prefers silence; on stage, she speaks with that precious instrument, the body, which she has placed at the service of dance.

When Giselle-Ould Braham descends into the grave forever – and returns to the stage to modestly salute the auditorium – she is greeted by twenty minutes’ thunderous ovation from a public well aware of what they have just experienced, and will—nevermore.

Title: Myriam Ould-Braham: Coming to terms with “farewell.”

Pour sa première apparition, Myriam Ould-Braham exécute un tourbillon de sautillés-arabesque sans poids. La ballerine semble se libérer des tempi de l’orchestre dans une explosion de liberté jubilatoire.

Plus tard, elle jouera au contraire des ralentis extrêmes dans l’adage. Ses développés à la seconde et ses arabesques penchées, où la ligne des jambes est comme magnifiée par l’infini étirement des bras souples, laissent pantois. Lors de la rencontre avec Albrecht, les grands jetés des marguerites sont extrêmement aériens puis, derrière sa croix, Giselle-Myriam fait son offrande de fleurs en ciselant chacune des marguerites avant de les lâcher au sol. La magie des bras et des mains, encore…

Le pas de deux est un délice de connexion entre les deux artistes. Les lignes sont infinies. Les arabesques décalées semblent ne jamais devoir finir. Les portés sont véritablement planés. Giselle semble vraiment voleter au-dessus d’Albrecht. Lorsque celui-ci répète sa combinaison de pas « de déclaration » du premier acte, elle ne le quitte pas des yeux. La commuunion des amants a enfin lieu par-delà la mort.

(Act II) – On her first apparition, Myriam Ould-Braham performs a weightless whirlwind of sautillés-arabesque. The ballerina seems to free herself from orchestral tempi in an explosion of joyous freedom.

Then, on the contrary, in the adagio section she plays with extreme ralentando. Her développés à la seconde and arabesques penchées, the leg-line drawing out the infinite tracery of her supple arms, leave one breathless. On encountering Albrecht (Paul Marque), the grands jetés with the field-flowers hover in the air…

In the pas de deux, the bond between the two dancers is sheer delight. Their lines seem never to end. The off-centre arabesques décalées drift off into the distance, while the lifts float, as Giselle seems literally to hover over Albrecht. When he restates the Act I enchaînement declaring his love, her eyes never leave him for an instant. Beyond death, the pair are at one.

Il m’est donc difficile de dire ce qui s’est passé réellement sur scène.

Je suis quasiment dans un état de sidération me répétant sans cesse : “Regarde bien Myriam Ould-Braham, c’est la dernière fois que tu la vois sur scène. A partir de maintenant, tu n’auras que des souvenirs.

What actually took place on stage? I find it hard to express.

As though thunderstruck, here I am repeating over and over, “Look hard! You’ll never see her on stage again. As of tonight, there will be nothing but the mind’s eye to recollect.”

Moufid Azmaïesh writes from France.

Featured: Myriam Ould-Braham.