Pascal Molat – Portrait of a Dancer
Before meeting Pascal Molat, a principal dancer at the San Francisco Ballet, I had never seen a human body merge so instinctively with music. Pascal was sitting in a chair in front of me talking and smiling when he said: “I have a musical body.” Intrigued, I asked him what it means to have a musical body, and he said, “Look, I’ll show you.”
The music playing in the room was a contemporary soft tune, creating a soothing ambiance, but slow and somewhat undanceable for my taste. Pascal got up, moved his hands slightly off his body and started dancing. All of a sudden, I couldn’t tell if I was watching his body move or if I was listening to the music – the fusion between the two was so instantaneous and beautiful to watch. Through his body, the song became more pleasing, its sounds became deeper as if it needed a bodily expression to be fully appreciated. As Pascal was moving, light and lightness radiated through him and filled up the entire room.
My first encounter with Pascal Molat happened in front of a house on Russian Hill. He said hello in a soft and welcoming voice, setting the tone for our interview, and I immediately felt comfortable in his calm presence. There was a sort of authenticity in his body language conveying to me that I was about to meet a rare being, a true artist, somebody special.
His ballet career started unexpectedly when he was 11 years old growing up in Montpellier, France. One day, he accompanied his mom to the jazz school where she was taking classes, and he started dancing in front of a teacher. She immediately spotted his talent and invited him to do a solo performance at the end of the school year. It was the ’80s, Billie Jean was the rave, and Michael Jackson the king of the dance moves. Pascal remembers the exhilaration he felt dancing for the first time in front of an audience, an unforgettable life event leading to his decision to delve into dancing.
This sudden new direction unsettled his world. Like many kids in Europe, he loved playing soccer and was looking forward to a summer soccer camp with Platini. But in the fall, he enrolled at the Conservatoire de Montpellier and auditioned a few months later for the prestigious Ballet School at the Opera of Paris, where he was accepted.
I told him that I feel admiration for people who seem destined to do something from an early age, who do it masterfully and with passion They seem to be few and exceptionally talented. Pascal nodded in recognition of the unique place he occupies in the larger sphere of things.
“I know that I am privileged,” he said humbly. “I really love what I do and I never had regrets for choosing dancing as a career.” Then, with a smile, he added “ I am paid to know myself better because the better I know myself, the better my dancing becomes.”
At 12 and a student at the Ballet School at the Opera of Paris, he felt passion for dancing although he didn’t know what passion meant yet. I observed him in a clip on You Tube, performing a solo break dance for French TV. He was imitating Jackson, moving, giving expression to the feelings the music was communicating through him. He was already an impressive dancer at age 12 – mature, in control of his destiny, and aware of the way his dancing was affecting people. And most of all, he was really enjoying it.
The Ballet School at the Opera of Paris is known as the cradle of dance and is one of the most rigorous ballet schools in the world. During Pascal’s six years of training, he played important roles, and he was thriving. All went very well for him until the last year, when he started experiencing pain in his knee. He had a stress fracture that was undetected for five months. When he wasn’t chosen to join the Company of the Opera of Paris as a dancer, he wasn’t crushed by it. I asked him whether the broken knee might have been responsible for the failed audition, but he refused to place blame. After the stress fracture was finally identified, he was immobilized for three months. It took him a year to recover and stage a comeback at his previous dancing level.
He landed his first job as a ballet dancer at the Ballet Royal de Wallonie, where he was a soloist for a year. Then, he entered the Ballet Royal de Flandres, another classical ballet company, for the following four years. Both ballet companies are in Belgium.
Perhaps it was the memory of the break dance, or some hidden part of his body that felt unexpressed, but after four years as a classical dancer he felt ready to move on. He wanted to expand his repertoire and do more modern dancing.
When an offer from the Ballet de Monte Carlo came, he immediately accepted. It meant working with the best choreographers in the world – Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, and Jean-Christophe Maillot, who is still the director of the company. He spoke fondly of his experience at the Ballet de Monte Carlo, where he played a lot of modern works, some Balanchine, as well as narrative ballets choreographed by Maillot. The experience made him grow artistically and prepared him for the next stepping-stone of his career – The San Francisco Ballet.
Pascal Molat joined the San Francisco Ballet nine years ago. For him, the Company represents the perfect venue to perform different roles from classic to modern, to personify different characters, to enrich new roles through his experience and to learn from the best in the field.
The San Francisco Ballet is one of the oldest ballet companies in the United States and is known worldwide as having the most eclectic repertoire. Every year, the Company invites the A- List of choreographers to create on-site.
The last ballet choreographed by a world famous choreographer was The Little Mermaid, which closed the 2011 season. It was the creative production of John Neumeier, director and chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet.
In The Little Mermaid, a tale by Hans Christian Anderson, Pascal played the role of the poet, who is also the narrator of the story, depicting an impossible love. It was as much an acting role for him as it was dancing. It was also a challenging role because he “had to learn how to be efficient and self-effacing at the same time.” Although he was supposed to be invisible, he appeared on the stage to set the story in motion, to open the scenes and introduce the characters. He needed to remain discreet and silent through-out, setting the mood and telling the story without getting the attention.
He opened the 2011 season in January playing Hilarion in Giselle, a role he particularly likes because it allows him to deploy all his artistic bravado. Hilarion, a support character in Giselle, is mostly interpreted as a mean character. But Pascal thinks that Hillarion is very human because he tells the truth. Once, a ballet critic mentioned Pascal’s interpretation in an article, and he enjoyed reading about it. He felt successful at conveying his own meaning through the subtlety of his gestures and body movement, a difficult task for any ballet dancer.
“I didn’t change the story” he said. “I gave it a different meaning, my personal interpretation. It’s where people get touched, where the connection of human-to-human happens. People start identifying, and the story, expressed through movement, starts to speak to them.”
Making people vibrate in a unique way and to a higher level is what he likes about dancing. He thinks that art has to be sincere and simple in order to touch the hearts of people. “When you attain this stage of sincerity, you are reaching the maximum number of people because it is kind of child-like and naïve. There is no inhibition, and thought doesn’t interfere with your truth, the truth that is representative of your essence as an artist.”
“Daring to become what you are and what you would like to become is not easy. It means reaching a new consciousness.” Then, he added, “Discovering oneself is the longest road we take in a lifetime.”
I asked Pascal how an artist could attain this stage of effortless simplicity and sincerity in his craft. He paused for a second and then drew from his personal experience.
“You start by aspiring to be an artisan, working on the technique. You repeat things over and over again to reach perfection but without ever reaching it. It resembles the warming up, the way I start my training every day. I do pliés, tendus, battements jettés, rond de jambe, and then I move to the middle of the studio. I repeat this over and over again. “Then,” he continued, “at one point the movements become artistic because you put your energy, your soul and your personality into it and the technique becomes a vehicle. Your movement gets animated by a thought, a feeling, by what you are and what you would like to say, hoping that people would receive it. You are giving them the illusion that the dancing is effortless.”
He feels fulfilled at the San Francisco Ballet and free to express his creativity and create illusions. “What you see in the moment ends in the moment after” he said. “The public would remember a scent. And as a dancer you hope to touch and infuse peoples’ souls.”
He loves the public in the city because they are spontaneous, instinctive and vivacious, reacting when the scent reaches their soul. “In Europe it’s a little different” he said, “Dance is still viewed as a sacred experience. There is a certain etiquette associated with applauding.”
When he mentioned son his face brightened and our conversation took a slightly different bent. He talked about how important it is to have a passion in life – that nothing important or big has been accomplished without it. He gave me the example of the San Francisco Ballet. “If there were no passionate supporters of the Ballet, the Company wouldn’t exist today,” he said.
He feels concerned but hopeful about the state of our planet. “Art awakens the consciousness of people, helping them to evolve and change. There is no life without art because art makes us dream. And the way art evolves,” he said, “we need to take a turn towards a new direction that is beneficial for the planet. There is an uprising in human consciousness. I feel it. ”
When he said that man is still in his learning stage, I listened carefully.
“Look how we treat other human beings! At one point, man has to grow, change his way of thinking.” “This will happen,” he thinks. “Where there is life, there is also hope.”
Pascal Molat is happy to represent his home country, France, at the San Francisco Ballet. He is in very good shape and is aging, he told me with a smile, like “a good bottle of French wine.” You can see him dancing next season, beginning January 2012.
Photo Credits in order of appearance:
Pascal Molat in N. Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso. Photo @Erik Tomasson
Pascal Molat in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. Choreographed by George Ballanchine @ The Balanchine Trust. Photo@Erik Tomasson
Pascal Molat in Robbins’ Fancy Free. Photo@Erik Tomasson
Pascal Molat in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. Photo @Erik Tomasson
Elizabeth Miner and Pascal Molat in Tomasson’s Nutracker. Photo @ Erik Tomasson
Pascal Molat in Company class. Photo@ Erik Tomasson