Pascal Molat – Portrait of a Dancer

Pascal Molat – Portrait of a Dancer

June 8, 2011  |  featured, people  |  5 Comments

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

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At the Farmers' market with Roland Passot

At the Farmers’ market with Roland Passot

February 3, 2011  |  food & drink, people, san francisco  |  1 Comment

Roland Passot, the chef of the iconic French restaurant in San Francisco, La Folie, is a charming and charismatic man and a recognizable figure in a sea of merchants at the Farmers’ Market in San Rafael. I joined him one Thursday morning to talk about his restaurant, his food and the man himself — a man, whose famous restaurant has become, in the last twenty years since he opened it on Polk Street, an institution for fine dining, fabulous food and a culinary experience for the senses.

He goes to the Farmers’ Market at the Civic Center each Thursday and Sunday to buy produce for his menu, a ritual so engrained since his childhood years in Lyon that it feels to him like going to church. With his easy-going personality, he weaves down the stalls greeting merchants, laughing aloud, asking about their business and their day, and seeing what looks good, fresh and ripe. He tells me that he knows most of the local farms, what they produce and what they bring to the market, and that he tries, as much as possible, to buy from all of them to make them happy. He seems at home, genuinely joyous to see and say hello to everyone.


“We are lucky to have farmers’ markets in the Bay Area,” he tells me, “because they bring European culture. When I finish shopping, I like to stay on at the market and chat with my friends.”

We stop at Paul’s stand, a French cheese maker, who produces fresh cheeses in small quantities. Roland asks him what kind of cheese he brought today. “Un petit marcelle frais and sec, un pavé, une bûche très jeune,” Paul responds. After carefully examining and sampling each one of them, then pausing to think for a second and staring back at the cheeses, Roland settles for le pavé et la bûche to offer to his clients at La Folie that same night. The merchants at the neighboring stalls are waiting for their clients while Paul makes a comment about their patience and calmness in contrast to the loud merchants at the French farmers’ markets. Roland nods in return, smiling, still admiring the cheeses.

Strolling along through the abundance of the Californian harvest, we meet a charcuterie vendor from “Fabrique Délices” who offers us a taste of coppa, pâté, rillettes and rosette de Lyon (dry sausage, Lyon style). A talkative Dutch woman hands Roland a a full bag of green vibrant salad. He seems impressed by the quality and the variety. He tastes and smells the raspberries offered by another farm and buys some for the restaurant. Then, he tells the tomato merchant, after looking and gently pressing his tomatoes, that he would stop by on Sunday.

When he bought a few dozen duck eggs, I asked him what he would do with them. He explains to me that he is offering on the menu of La Folie a tempura of duck eggs, served on a pancake of sweetbreads and truffles, with a salad of green beans. “The egg is poached softly and then fried, but it stays soft in the middle (moelleux au milieu),” he explains.

As we walk from one side of the market to the other, the music in the background changes. We hear a banjo, then a band. It feels somewhat like a fair.

“Socializing is a big part of French culture. In France, people don’t take themselves seriously. We tend to forget our age. We like to spend time with friends, eat at restaurants and dance.”

It is one of the reasons he opened La Folie Lounge, adjacent to La Folie. He wanted to add a casual touch, to create a comfortable place where people can enjoy themselves while sampling a lounge menu, as well as order food from the restaurant in a more relaxed setting. He wanted to appeal to the younger, professional, tech-savvy generation, who are expanding their palate level to finer culinary experiences and who are ready to be impressed and captured by his food.

Roland can also be seen dining regularly with his family at the Left Bank restaurant in Larkspur, which he co-owns with a partner. The Left Bank was envisioned as an improvisation of a 1920 Parisian style brasserie in the style of Les Deux Magots. It offers regional French dishes — tartes lyonnaises (Roland is from Lyon), tartes flambées, quenelles, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, pâté de canard, pâté de campagne, escargots. The restaurant’s fantastic terrace and sunny location draws crowds of people and regulars. It is a place close to Roland’s home (Marin) and dear to his heart, a place where he goes to enjoy French food with family and friends — when he is not creating dazzling, palate-pleasing dishes at La Folie.

  • La Folie
  • 2316 Polk Street, San Francisco
  • (415) 776-5577
  • Visit website!


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Maxime Genauzeau

Maxime Genauzeau

November 24, 2010  |  people  |  8 Comments

Maxime Genauzeau, a French designer living in San Francisco, is the creator of the striking decor of Amélie, a wine bar on Polk Street that feels more like New York than San Francisco — pure elegance, a touch of wonder and a lot of captivation.

The success of the design is due in part to the beautiful volume of the space that enlivened the designer’s imagination. “Having a gorgeous space to work with is every designer’s dream,” Maxime told me as a matter of fact during our interview.

He traces his vision of space to the work of two influential 20th century Austrian theorists/deconstructivists — Lebbeus Woods (see “Radical Construction”) and Coop Himmelblau (Austrian Architects Coop). “In my opinion, they were pioneers (pioniers),” he explains. “Their theories on the representation of space were so influential on post-modern architecture, that the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, built by Franck Gehry, exists today because of the thinking of these avant-garde architects.”

The center point of Amélie is an elliptical bar in the form of a boat hull (coque de bateau) over which hangs a huge white sail (voile), bestowing the entire front space with a soft aerial touch and an improvement in sound quality. Dropping down through the sail and over the bar are a dozen gorgeous round Bauhaus lamps in different shapes. Maxime found them one by one in flea markets, entrusting old glaze to set the mood, illuminate conversations and brighten faces. The mirror behind the bar, a French Bistro tradition and a must, invites participation and creates cohesion among guests while a Victor Hugo poem inscribed on the back ceiling adds mystery and a touch of sentimentality to the overall effect. The result is what Maxime strives to accomplish in his designs:

“A space needs to be enjoyable and beautiful at the same time (agréable à vivre et beau à voir), and it must produce a lasting effect on the senses.”


The designer credits his years spent in architecture school in Bordeaux for teaching him how to work under constrains and to continually justify his concepts. He compares his creative process to script writing, and he tells me that when focusing on a single project, he channels his creativity to arrive at the logic behind it. Giving meaning to his projects is a crucial step in his technique, which also includes a lot of sketching. And like a sculptor, he always gives priority to the essential — refining his work and taking the unnecessary pieces out of the composition (faire des épures) to leave a timeless impact. His classical side is concerned with the longevity (pérennité) of his designs, but his aesthetic, as a rule, tends to fuse old with present, classic with contemporary.

Upon opening the door of Amélie, one’s gaze is stirred by illuminated red bottles, exciting and heightening the senses. The bottles are meant to connect the bar to the rest of the space, and their exact placement on the wall is not as random as it might appear. The French expression — plonger en bouteille (to dive the legs first) — reveals the whole story. The last shelf above the bar extends as a diving board (plongeoir), from which the bottles dive down to a pool of red wine. The first diving bottles are empty, as suggested by their lack of color, but as they reach the wine pool (the red lacquered panels) they become befuddled (enivrés), making pirouettes. During the agitation, they get filled with wine and become red.

“This is poetry,” he tells me. It is poetry to my eyes as well.

Maxime Genauzeau. ©2010 DMG Design

Pacific Heights interior

His latest project was transforming a dark hallway in a private house in Pacific Heights. One day, the cleaning lady told him that the children like to spread their hands across the walls of the hallway on their way back from school. The walls were sensual to the kids and the design needed to be friendly and attractive to their touch and feel. He decided to cover the hallway with luminous spots, convex mirrors, bull’s eyes (des loupes) filled with pictures of the kids, and smooth wooden balls (des boules de bois) in all sizes. The design, surprisingly fresh and original, looks like a galaxy, an explosion of matter, and it constitutes a feast for the kids. The entire project took one month to research and four months to build.

Besides being a designer, Maxime is also an accomplished abstract painter, fascinated with the world (l’univers) of comic writer/movie/theater director Enki Bilal. He owes a lot to Bilal’s technique, which evolved from the classic ligne claire of comic books to a more direct color application of a painter. Examples of his paintings can be found on his website or seen in his studio located in San Francisco.

Maxime’s great passion is the ocean. From la Rochelle, where he was born, to San Francisco, being near water is a constant in his life. This is a passion he shares with his favorite singer Brel. And like Brel, he has sailed to les Marquises (French Polynesia).

“Only from the cost of Mexico,” he adds. “Brel sailed to Tahiti all the way from France.” On the island, he visited Brel’s tomb and spent memorable hours alone in his museum learning about the singer’s life and unlocking the secrets of his moving songs.

“In Quand on n’a que l’amour,” he says, “Brel tells us everything that is essential in life. And of course, I love Ne me quitte pas... because we have all been there.” “When Brel sings,” he continues, “you can hear his passion for life.”

He tells me that for Brel, Les Marquises were so special, that “one had to deserve them.”(“Les Marquises, cela se mérite !) And Maxime did, of course! One more accomplished project to be proud of!


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