Toulouse, known as ‘La Ville Rose’, because of the rose-red stones from which so many of its buildings are constructed, nestles in the foothills of the Pyrenees in South-West France. A lively, prosperous city, it boasts France’s second largest university as well as the all-important aerospace industry. The Opera House, ‘Le Capitole’ has always played an important role in the city’s cultural life and there has been a ballet company at the Capitole for more than 300 years, notably successful in the 19th  century performing the romantic and classical repertoire. More recently and like so many French opera-ballet companies, the Ballet of the Capitole fell into a provincial slumber to be awakened, perhaps unexpectedly and dramatically, by the arrival of the American, Nanette Glushak in 1994. A former dancer with New York City Ballet, a soloist with American Ballet Theatre, Glushak has also directed the ballet company in Dallas, Texas, and briefly Scottish Ballet, but she is perhaps best known for her meticulous and inspired productions of George Balanchine’s ballets for companies around the world.

“A company is only as good as its dancers.” Glushak states this categorically and she and her Assistant Director and Ballet Master, Michel Rahn, both passionate about the importance of good teaching, set to work re-training and re-forming the Toulouse company gradually winning essential improvements: better salaries for the dancers, purpose built rehearsal premises and a budget allowing them to invite today’s leading choreographers. The company today is thirty-five strong and made up of nine different nationalities; besides the French contingent, there are dancers from Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, South America, Vietnam and Eastern Europe. The company gives four different programmes annually in Toulouse, which this year includes Glushak and Rahn’s productions of Coppelia and The Nutcracker and two Triple Bills, including works by Balanchine, Hans van Manen, Twyla Tharp and a world premiere by Patrick Delcroix. The extensive repertoire is interesting and eclectic including works by Tudor,  de Mille, Ashton, Cranko, Tetley as well as contemporary choreographers such as Forsythe and Kylian. The company tours regularly in France, will visit Italy and Spain this year and in past years have traveled as far as the United States, South America and China.

I was able to see the first performance of the season, a revival of Coppelia based on the production by Enrique Martinez for American Ballet Theatre. It is a traditional version whereby Glushak and Rahn have‘re-worked’ items such as the Mazurka in Act 1 and the Act 3 Finale to include a lot of lively and technically demanding choreography. Swanilda was danced by Evelyne Spagnol, a dancer from Toulouse who became the principal dancer under Glushak’s guidance, and who has now returned to the company after several seasons in Zurich. A steely technician but with a beautifully fluid and lyrical style, she is, perhaps, not a natural Swanilda but danced with charm and finesse. The Brazilian dancer, Breno Bittencourt was a perfect Franz, fresh and likeable and a formidable technician, while Michel Rahn’s Dr. Coppelius was suitably eccentric and doddery. The Armenian dancer, Davit Galstyan and the Toulousian, Pascale Saurel, were particularly impressive in the Mazurka. The company is an attractive and homogenous one and I would welcome the chance to see them again in a contemporary programme where their different talents could be more widely appreciated. One quibble is that the dancers danced too much to the audience without the essential communication between the characters on stage which would make the story line clearer and more dramatic. With a new theatre director arriving at the Capitole next year and the promise of further improvements for the ballet along with an all-important increase in the number of performances, Nanette Glushak and Michel Rahn have every reason to feel confident in the future of the Ballet du Capitole in which they have already invested so much work and energy. It must be rewarding for them to see  packed houses for the ballet, including an already sold-out spring season of The Nutcracker.