Alizee Sicre: “In Berlin I found the freedom I was searching for”
Our talk with the aspiring ballet dancer of the Staatsballett Berlin covers Alizee’s childhood, the decision to move to Germany, the ways to beat stress, the favourite roles Alizee would like to dance and some other important moments of the dancer’s career.
How did you decide to start dancing? Was it your decision or your parents’? How did you feel about it when you were a child?
Before I turned 6 years old, I was not sleeping at night at all. I literally mean at all, and even during the day. My mum was doing ballet and karate at that time, and she decided I had to do some physical activity, so she put me to dance, and I liked it. At the age of 12, I was at a private school, it was very intense, and I had a moment when I was really tired. It was so much work and plus dance, that at the end of the season I wanted to stop. So, my mum told me, "Finish this season and then let’s decide". At the end of the year I said that I would like to continue.
In Russia teaching methods can be very harsh, so some children do not feel happy at all. Now it is gradually changing, thank god. What can you say about your experience?
Well, I do not find it right at all to beat or put down someone mentally, especially a kid. I had to face some hard moments by myself. Yes, we should not give too much freedom to kids, but we should not intimidate them because so many nice dancers stopped because of this.
I think nowadays children are not like that anymore. They just enjoy what they do without any fear. Sometimes I believe it is because of social networks. They want to show off, so they try making a lot of nice videos, they practice more for that and get motivation from such things.
Actually, what I want to say about the Internet and dancers is that: though I have much respect for the strong technique they have, somehow these videos are only about how many pirouettes they do or what tricks they can perform, so it somehow cancels the artistic part of our job. We should have both.
I know that you were born in France and danced for some time at the Paris Opera. Why did you decide to move to Berlin and join the Staatsballett Berlin? What roles did you have in Paris?
I studied at the ballet school of the Paris Opera for 5 years and then I worked for 5 years at the theatre there. This school has a strong classical education. For example, we had modern, theatre, folklore, a lot of music and even anatomy. We had
to learn our body’s muscles and bones. In the company, they also gave us a chance to get a diploma as a teacher, which is very nice too.
If I have to pick one role that was special to my heart at the Paris Opera, I will say Swanilda with the choreographer Pierre Lacotte. I was chosen by him, and I danced the main role on the stage of the Palais Garnier. I also had a chance to work with Crystal Pite. I will always remember how generous she is, how inspiring it is to be with her. I met the assistant of Maurice Bejart as we danced "The Greek Dances". We worked with John Neumeier, Laurent Hilaire, with Aurélie Dupont who was already a director, I had a private class with Marie-Agnès Gillot, Marie-Solenne Boulez. Yeah, I was surrounded by a lot of stars.
Why did you leave then?
I decided to leave the Paris Opera because I wanted to go on a new road, to meet new people, new artists, new coaches, new choreographers and to continue to challenge myself artistically. I also realized it would take too long to get the main role or solo. I had the ambition to dance more. So, I decided quite spontaneously to pass an audition.
My first audition was in Berlin, and Nacho Duato gave me a contract. He asked me to come 2 weeks later, but I could not as I was on a contract with the Paris Opera. I talked to Aurelie Dupont, and she let me go after 2 months, so I danced my last show "Swan Lake" at the Paris Opera on December 31 and on January 1 I was travelling to Berlin. On January 2 I started working for the Staatsballett Berlin.
Can you tell us a bit about the difference between the French school and the one we have here in Germany? Is there any difference? Maybe, the approach to work and performances is different?
There it was very strict, but I am happy about it as it taught me to be strict with myself. I think it is very important for a dancer to have discipline, especially when you are professional. There is no one behind you who pushes you, so you need to be disciplined by yourself. It also taught me to be mentally strong. I think it is very necessary for this job too. We have to deal with a lot of stress.
In Berlin what jumped in my eyes immediately was the freedom that I was searching for and that I found. I was sometimes blocking myself in my dance. When I came to Berlin, I started learning how to open up myself and to feel more free. This is what I loved here.
Is it hard to go through auditions and join such big ballet companies?
It is very difficult to get a job because there are so many dancers and so few places. I think it is not only about your talent. It is also about the timing for this specific company. For example, I got a contract when somebody got pregnant. Sometimes the company does not have a place for you or they have their own requirements and ideas about who they want to hire.
I passed a private audition. I took the class with the company for 2 days. In France I had a normal audition. First, we did the barre, then they said goodbye to some people, then we did the middle and some of us passed to the variation part. In Paris I could not choose, it was a mandatory variation. One I really loved working on was Lilac Fairy from "The Sleeping Beauty". We had to dance "Paquita" by Pierre Lacotte, Swanilda in "Coppelia", and one more I do not remember now.
What about character? Is it important for a dancer?
It is true that at any work it is more pleasant to work with an optimistic and nice person and the person who likes to work.
In this relation I would say about the relationship between a dancer and a coach. It is really a relationship of trust because you have someone who watches you and wants to help you. I can imagine how unpleasant it would be to sit and watch a dancer who is always complaining. Besides, we are in a theatre because we want to cheer our audience up, though we can be down ourselves. That is why I find it so essential: not only from a technical point of view, but also as an interpreter.
For example, Marcia Haydee gave us a lot of freedom, and she wanted each dancer to interpret Little Red Riding Hood in her version of "The Sleeping Beauty" differently. I started to do this character as a very excited one, and she said, "I want you to go crazier and crazier". She wanted more and more, so I made her really active and really emotional. I really enjoyed this role, and the audience is very receptive to it. For this role, the connection with your partner is also very important because you both play this game.
How life in Germany has changed you?
I like eating healthy food. Not because of a diet, I just like it for my well-being. I am allergic to gluten and milk, but I found my own way, and I cook my own gluten-free bread. Here in Berlin you have space, you can breathe, there are so many green spots, so I took even more care of myself.
I cannot pass a day without vegetables and fruits, I like meat and fish. I eat rice, cereal, and chocolate. My favorite thing is ice cream made of fruits – sorbet.
I cook a lot during my free days, and it is okay if I eat the same meal during upcoming days. At least I have something healthy to eat. I have a boyfriend who does not cook, so it is always a better motivation to cook for yourself plus another person.
What is the main thing you enjoy about your work? What is the main thing you do not like about ballet?
The main thing I like about my job is that it is so exciting, we are never bored. There is always something new. We have many choreographers coming and there is always something new to learn. Literally, I learn every day.
I am a hard worker, so I work even during my days off. Honestly, I love it, I love being at the theatre. It is clear we should have at least 1 day off per week to rest. But I really enjoy this time in the studio alone as I can work on some details or I do not have time for it during the ordinary day or I do not dare try when the whole company is around. Also physically, I love to move a bit, it makes me feel better.
But there is only one period I would love to not work. It is during Christmas days which I would better spend with my family.
One more thing I hate is sewing pointe shoes. It takes so long.
What pointe shoes do you use?
Freed from London because I find they have a nice shape for feet.
What is your favourite role you have had with the Staatsballett Berlin?
The first ballet that I danced for this company will always be in my heart. It was "Altro canto" by Jean-Christophe Maillot. I really enjoyed dancing it on stage.
Arshak Ghalumyan created a pas de deux "Promenade" for me and my partner. It was the first time a choreographer created a piece for me. It felt great. He taught me how to move, so that I would feel good. We also danced one more piece by him at the gala.
I also had a chance to dance Olga in "Onegin". It was my first principal role in this company, and I read the poem by Pushkin, watched some film versions and worked with Reid Andersen who came to Berlin.
How do you handle stress as a dancer? Is there really a lot of stress involved? Do you have stage fear?
Of course, our job is stressful because we want to do our best. During covid I realized that I missed the stage and dancing so much. When we came back to the theatre after COVID, I promised to myself to not destroy some nice moments on stage and in the studio because of my stress. Our career is also so short, so we should definitely try to think that it is not about death or life. We try our best, and it is more important.
So, personally, I can stress out a few days or hours before, but somehow there is always a click when I go on stage. I am not Alizee anymore, I am my character and this thinking helps me a lot to deal with my stress.
How do you feel when people say they will come to see your performance specifically? Does it add up to the level of responsibility?
When it is someone I know like a friend, it is great and special as I am excited to dance for them. The only time I am stressed is when my family is coming: my dad, my mum and my sister. I do not know why.
Tell me about the biggest challenge you have faced as a dancer in your career.
Definitely, covid, though I was very motivated to stay in shape. It was not difficult for me to do my barre, pilates and other activities. Besides, I was very lucky as I made my decision to join my family when they closed everything. I am a family person and I was happy to be with them. I was missing my job, but at least I had the love of my family. What was hard was when we came back and we sometimes had to cancel performances due to covid cases. It is hard mentally when you give so much and then have to cancel. I know that the Staatsballet really tried to help us a lot. We even had Galas with and without an audience.
What choreographer do you admire the most?
There are so many choreographers and ballets I would like to dance. If we talk about modern, then it is Angelin Prejlocaj "Le Parc", Kylian "Petite Mort", Goecke, Mats Ek, Balanchine, Forsythe. And of course, I’m looking forward to discovering the work of Christian Spuck, our new director from the new season 2023/24.
What about your favourite classical roles?
Juliette, Giselle, Clara from "The Nutcracker". Juliette and Giselle is something special in a dancer’s career. You go through so many emotions and you need such a strong technique.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I am a coffee addict, so I like going out for coffee with my friends and family. As I live in Charlottenburg, my favorite coffee shops are also here. There is a very nice cafe near Lietzensee. There is also a cafe "Ballet" owned by one of our former colleagues. It is very nice and the quality of coffee is nice. There are also pictures of dancers and some pointe shoes. I love the cat café "Zur Mieze" because I love cats, though I cannot have a cat as I travel a lot. My favourite brunch spot is "The Reed" at Alexanderplatz. There is a live DJ, nice food and colourful interior. I had my birthday there one time. I like the cafe "Anna Blume", Monkey Bar.
I love being in the sun, but in Berlin it is not really the case. When there is the sun, you will definitely see me outside, in the park or on the terrace. I love to have spa time with a sauna and swimming pool.
What are your favourite spots in Berlin?
My favourite place is Gendarmenmarkt. I can have a drink there in summer and go to a Christmas market in winter. I find it pretty. I also enjoy that in Berlin there are so many green places. I love to spend time in the park. I find the quality of life is quite amazing too. There are also a lot of nice restaurants.
If you had a daughter, would you want her to be a ballet dancer? Why?
I would not push her to be a dancer, but I would also not forbid her to do it. I am sensitive in my heart, so I would like her to do something related to culture. To tell the truth, I would like her to be a musician.
Name three films and three books you recommend reading to everyone.
All book by Marcel Pagnol, but especially "Jean de Florette" / "Manon des sources"; "Vipère au poing" by Hervé Bazin, "L’homme quit rit" by Victor Hugo, "The Alchimist" by Paolo Coelho, "The Boy" by Marcus Malte, "Sometimes a great notion" by Ken Kesey, "The horseman on the roof" by Jean Giono, "Fahreinheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, "Siddhartha" by Herman Hesse, "Hatter’s Castle" by A-J.Cronin.
Green mile, Dead Poets Society, Forrest Gump, The piano, The Notebook, Pulp fiction, When Harry met Sally, Out of Africa, The Pianist, Les choristes, La môme with Marion Cotillard, The comte of Monte Cristo with Gérard Depardieu, La piscine with Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, Breakfast at Tiffany with Audrey Hepburn, movies based on Marcel Pagnol’s books (all of them, but first: Marius / Fanny / Jean de florette / Manon des sources).
We are very grateful to our friends who helped us prepare this interview!
Photographer: Levent Simsek
Dress: Atelier Lawenda Berlin
Journalist: Julia Pneva