March 2016 (Rosella Hightower School of Higher Education in Dance – Cannes )

The name of the American ballerina, Rosella Hightower, is known to every taxi driver, shop keeper, and most of the population of Cannes. She has become an icon of the town to equal the Film Festival or the Croisette. Hightower was the undisputed star of the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas from 1947 to 1961 and performed regularly with the company in Cannes. When the company disbanded in 1961 she chose to settle in the Riviera town and founded the Centre International de Danse. The school offered full time dance training as well as academic studies to students of all nationalities, but it also became a mecca for professional dancers who gathered there during the summer holidays. Here they could work with Hightower as well as with teachers invited from all over the world while meeting old friends and colleagues and making contacts with other dancers, teachers, choreographers and company directors. During these years Hightower continued to perform as guest artist, as well as directing several major ballet companies; Ballet de Marseille, La Scala Ballet in Milan and the Paris Opéra Ballet. Together with Maurice Béjart, Philippe and Elvire Braunschweig she created the Prix de Lausanne in 1973 and in 1981 she instigated the Cannes Dance Festival. In 1988 she was appointed Officer of the Legion d’Honneur.

An exceptionally brilliant technician, Hightower was also an inspiring teacher able to pass on much of her knowledge and experience with private coaching and in fiendishly difficult classes, which I was fortunate enough to benefit from myself. Anyone working with her could not help but be inspired by her quiet, unassuming manner and the passion she felt for her profession. In the 1990’s the school had outgrown its premises in the centre of Cannes while becoming recognised as ‘Ecole Supérieure de Danse Rosella Hightower’ supported by the city of Cannes and by regional and national authorities. In 1999 the school moved to new premises on the border of the neighbouring town of Mougins, still just a short drive from the centre of Cannes and the beaches of the Mediterranean. The site, while full of potential was in serious need of rebuilding and renovation. Regional authorities committed themselves to undertake this work and with the future now secure, Hightower decided to retire, appointing, in 2001, former ballerina of the Paris Opéra Ballet, Monique Loudières, director of the school. Hightower continued to take an interest in the school’s activities, despite failing health, until she died in 2008.

As with many projects of this kind, there was a long wait for the necessary improvements to be made, during which time a new director was appointed. Following an outstanding career with Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century, John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet, the National Ballet of Portugal, and as Danseuse Etoile of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Italian ballerina, Paola Cantalupo, was appointed director. The new campus was finally completed in 2015, a year which brought about a number of exciting new developments. The school is to become part of a new cultural centre for the area, already under construction, comprising a 650-seat theatre, a music school and an art school. With the support of the French Ministry of Culture the school has also formed a partnership with the Ecole National Supérieure de Danse in Marseille, sharing a curriculum and interchanging teachers for special courses. Forming a Centre for Higher Education in Dance for the Provence-Mediterranean region this has led to the possibility of arranging apprenticeships for final year students to work with dance companies in the region, notably the National Ballet of Marseille and Ballet Preljocaj in nearby Aix-en-Provence.

The school in Cannes offers students two different programmes: ‘Dance and School Studies’ for 11 to 15 or16 year olds which include the baccalaureate and an ‘Upper School Training Programme’ for those over 16 years of age and which includes a diploma in Professional Dance and the possibility of university studies to obtain a BA or higher qualifications. These students also have the possibility of taking part in performances and working with professional choreographers in the ‘Cannes Jeune Ballet’, made up of sixteen to twenty students from the school. As well as classical ballet and contemporary dance, the school offers classes in pas de deux, jazz, choreographic workshops, repertory, anatomy, music, history of dance, dancers’ health and dance teacher training. Besides those teachers who are former students of Rosella Hightower and who went on to have successful careers as dancers, are several who have made international careers as dancers, notably James Urbain, (ex- London Festival Ballet and La Scala) Ben Van Cauwenbergh, (Royal Flemish Ballet, LFB and Berlin Opera Ballet) and Peter Newton Brain (Chicago City Ballet and Ballets de Monte-Carlo) . The list of alumni also includes an exceptionally high number of company directors and choreographers including those now active in companies in Monte-Carlo, Geneva, Lyon, Madrid, and The Hague who have retained contact with the school.

The campus in Cannes is an exceptionally pleasant one, surrounded by trees and gardens, imaginatively designed and superbly practical. There are four large, airy studios and separate smaller buildings for academic studies. Accomodation is available for students on the campus and besides the self-service restaurant there are many spaces, indoor and outdoor for study and relaxation. There are currently 143 full-time students made up of 16 nationalities and another 200 part-time students. Academic classes are in French although English is in use throughout the school.

I had the opportunity to see a recent performance of the Cannes Jeune Ballet in Cannes performing works by the Italian choreographer Davide Bombana, Ballet de Monte-Carlo director, and former student, Jean-Christophe Maillot, another by a more recent former student, and a pas de deux devised by two 15 year olds. Not only was the execution of a professional level but the energy and commitment was unflagging and warmly received by a packed theatre. At the school at 9 o’clock in the morning everything was buzzing with activity, classes starting in all four studios, along with preparations for the forthcoming annual school performance. Peter Newton Brain’s ballet class for the older students showed evidence of his own early training at the American School of Ballet and with Margaret Craske in New York. Another day I was able to watch Paola Cantalupo teaching a class of 15 year olds the Mazurka from Les Sylphides which showed her ability to transmit her experience and respect for the classical repertoire as well as being a perfect example of the classical ballerina of today, relaxed and unassuming. On the school’s website she states her aim as training dancers capable of meeting the demands of today’s choreographers and directors “while respecting the past, being open to the present and planning for the future”. With the proliferation of contemporary dance companies, directed by very individual choreographers, the demands made today upon dancers are ever more challenging. The ESDC is offering students the possibility of preparing for these demands while enjoying a period of study and creativity in a superbly well- equipped international centre of dance.

Dancing Times