Andrey Klemm’s sister dreamed of becoming a ballerina, but when he accompanied her to Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet School, it was nine-year old Andrey who was recruited to join. He’s lived in the ballet world ever since. After graduating, he performed with the legendary Moscow Classical Ballet, Berlin State Ballet and other leading companies. A universally in-demand ballet master, his bright star guides the students and the etoiles — principal dancers — of The Paris Opera Ballet’s exceptionally glittering firmament.
Since his permanent appointment in 2007, Andrey has spent his days teaching classical ballet at the grand institution founded by Louis XIV. More than anyone, he knows what it takes to reach the pinnacle of a rarefied profession. Though a ballet performance often features impossibly beautiful ballerinas in dreamy costumes and impossibly handsome princes who deny the laws of gravity, their hard-won effortlessness is belied by the endurance, discipline, and drive of world-class athletes, which they certainly are. As modern day alchemists, the dancers transform the stage into an enchanted realm where we can believe — if only for the length of a performance — in human perfection and dreams that come true.
In a rare interview, Andrey Klemm gives us a glimpse behind the theater curtain of the Paris Garnier Opera House where the majority of the Paris Opera Ballets are performed.
Your favorite ballet memory?
I have more than one. A tour in Japan organized by Manuel Legis where I was giving class for one week to Sylvie Guillem, seeing Svetlana Zacharova dancing “Diamonds” with the Mariinsky Ballet, and working at the Paris Opera with Mats Ek and dancing the father in Neumeier’s “La dame aux camelias”.
Moscow! The city where I was born, where I learned my profession, the huge city where I know every little corner, all the amazing churches and monasteries, and the history of my country and beginning of my history in these old walls. One of the best and most interesting cities in the world to visit now.
Ballet dancers you love watching?
Hugo Marchand of the Paris Opera and Svetlana Zakharova of La Scala and the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. And of course, I like watching all the dancers I work with at the Paris Opera and all over the world. Aurelie Dupond, Amandine Albisson, Paul Marque, Marianela Nunez, Roberto Bolle, Polina Semionova…
Do you cross-train and how often do you take ballet class yourself?
I don’t cross-train. I find it very boring. I love swimming, though only in the sea, not a pool.
I take class every single day — that is, while I’m teaching. I sometimes teach up to three classes a day.
Paris restaurant for a special occasion?
I like the restaurants outside of Paris where there aren’t so many people and where there are trees and nature. For example, I like Brumaire in the Parc de Saint-Cloud. And the River Café on a moor barged at Issy-les-Moulineaux outside of Paris has a very good kitchen and ambiance.
Paris cafe for coffee or a drink with a friend?
The employee canteen at the Paris Opera, and I like Cafe du Commerce in the15th arrondissement. It has the best gourmet coffee.
Favorite Paris Opera Ballet?
“Suite en blanc.” The choreography and style is very French, very precise– and there’s a whisper in the movements of the dancers arms and legs. I especially like Agnes Letestu’s performance and also Herve Moreau’s.
A non-ballet related vacation?
I spend almost all of my vacations teaching for other companies such as the Royal Ballet in London, The Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, or Tokyo Ballet, Sadamatsu-Hamada Ballet Kobe, Tokyo City Ballet and Étoile Ballet Workshop in Japan. If it’s not ballet, I’m swimming in Greece or Spain or in Crimea.
Favorite place to swim?
My family and I often stay at the Asamaris Hotel because it’s close to Mt. Athos. The sea near the hotel is the best. I also love going to Mt. Athos for a couple of days. It feels like walking into the past and the Byzantine era, even the clocks are set to Byzantine time. The hours begin at sunset instead of at midnight.
Difference between Russian and French ballet training?
Russian training is one hour. French training is an hour and a half. Russians traditionally pay more attention to and work more on precise and beautiful positions of the arms and upper body and the French pay enormous attention to working on beautiful feet and the lower leg. Russians very much like the tricks and even almost acrobatic stuff sometimes, and the French like to have the cleanest positions and purest academism. But I have to say that nowadays many French dancers have very beautiful arms and upper body and many Russian dancers have very clean positions and beautiful foot work, so we learn and improve from each other.
What are your carry-on bag essentials?
I use my Tumi bag and always bring my prayer book and a notebook where I write new combinations that suddenly come to mind.