Monday 5 December 2022

Mathis Joubert,
an off-road dancer

Hip-hop or ballet? Mathis Joubert has already made up his mind, he chose both! Aged 22, the young dancer mixes these arts with virtuosity. His career path is atypical, his dancing style is unique. Thankfully, Mathis doesn't like labels. From Tours, a western French city, to the stages of New York, come discover a passionate artist who wants to free ballets from its chains.

It’s almost been a year since you started as a professional dancer. What did you dream about, when you were younger?

As a teenager, I was fascinated by hip-hop videos on YouTube! I was trying to reproduce the moves in my room. In secondary school I started a dancing group with friends, we trained in the school’s gym. I come from a village of 500 inhabitants, an hour away from Tours. There were no classes, no training course. Dance is not as accessible as soccer! So we set up a project on “urban dancing in the countryside”. It was backed and thanks to the financial help, hip-hop dancers from the region came to train us during school holidays, for two years.

Is this why you decided to become a professional dancer?

No, I just wanted to learn how to dance. I got into a high school in Limoges, they had a dance option. I was soon disappointed because it was mostly theory… A student told me about a workshop, led by Sergio Simón, Director of Dance at the Opera of Limoges. I decided to participate. Halfway through the year, Sergio told me that if I wanted to become a professional dancer, I would have to do ballet. At 15, I only knew hip-hop… I had a hard time imagining myself wearing tights! *laughs* A few months later, I finally accepted without really knowing why. On Sergio’s advice, I auditioned for a professional school in Toulouse, the VM Ballet School.

“Dance is not as accessible as soccer!”

Photo by Christopher Duggan

How did you get ready to audition for classical dancing when you only knew hip-hop?

I had created a hip-hop choreography with a few modern steps that I had learned in high school. The jury asked me to put my leg on the barre, to stand in first position… I had absolutely no idea of what it meant! But they ended up taking me in. Matthew Madsen, the Director, warned me: “It’s going to be a challenge for you, but also for us.” Before the beginning of school year, he gave me private lessons to teach me the basics. I really enjoyed the fact that he took it easy. For example, he told me I could wear soccer shorts instead of tights!

Joining a ballet school for the first time at 16 is quite unusual. Did you ever have some doubts?

Yes, I did several times. It was frustrating seeing 11-year-old guys with a good level already! I was not flexible, so I had to take some time to work on my body. Not to mention that Matthew kept giving me private lessons, I was also doing distance learning… My weeks were really intense. To me, this pace was extremely strict, almost military. This kind of training was completely new to me. By the end of the year, I told my parents I didn’t want to keep doing the distance education program. I told them: “If I have no contract when I turn 21, I’ll quit dancing and resume my studies.” They’ve talked about it for a while, and eventually agreed.

Mathis Joubert on stage with the VM Ballet.

Photo by David Herrero (left) / Photo by Bertrand Groc (right)

You invested a lot of energy to reach the students’ level. Did your efforts pay off?

I improved quite fast and by the third year, I started entering competitions. It triggered everything off. I won a prize for best talent in the “AmsterDans” competition, granting me a 2 year scholarship at the Peridance Capezio Center, in New York City! I’ve been really lucky because, a few days later, I won the “Get Up et fais ton truc” contest and a 20000 euro check! It’s been an amazing financial help to leave for the States. And also to relieve my parents.

You longed for the American Dream, what did you think of the Big Apple?

It’s as huge and beautiful as I expected! There is such a rich art life. What I like most is the diversity. In schools and companies, dancers come from all around the world. It’s not necessarily the case in Europe.

During my training course in New York, I’ve learnt new styles and worked with many choreographers. My girlfriend Taïlys, who had studied with me at the VM Ballet School, joined me after a few months. We participated in projects with small companies, photographers… We found all these auditions through social media. We should not neglect social media, because they are part of our profession and can present some opportunities. It also is a good source of inspiration.

“In New York City, dancers come from all around the world.”

Photo by Noor Eemaan (left) / Photo by Amarante Filmes (right)

A few months ago, you joined the American company “Rock the Ballet”. Which aspect of this project sparked your interest?

The troupe had come to rehearse at the VM Ballet School, I remember loving the sexy and powerful aspect of their show. Adrienne Canterna, the choreographer, lets dancers express their personality and brings their qualities forward. She makes me break dance every time she gets to! And I absolutely love touring, the energy released by the public and their reactions at the end of the show. It’s really nice to make people smile! But what I love most about dance, is the creative aspect in the studio with the choreographer, when we take time to modify, refine, adjust.

Did this taste for creation make you want to form your own dance school?

Yes, Taïlys and I have had this project in mind for a while. For now, we only created an Instagram account, “The Balletbreak”, to gain visibility. We’re still young, we need contacts and experience to develop our style. Our idea is to take the powerful, anchored to the ground side of breakdance and to mix it to the ballet’s aesthetic. By learning both dances, I’ve seen many similarities: the training process, the strength, the flexibility. The style is the only difference. We’d like to create a bridge between these universes: breakdance doesn’t only belong in suburbs, classical isn’t only about tutu skirts.

Mathis Joubert and Taïlys Poncione during a photo shoot in New York City, in 2017.

Photo by Kimeth McClelland

So, you want to break the clichés?

Exactly! In our school, we’d like to put an end to racial, size, weight, disability criteria… Ballet is still too closed, things need to change. So many dancers don’t fit in these standards, but still deserve to be recognized! Diversity is our strength. I was born in Korea and grew up in a French family. Taïlys is Franco-Brazilian. Diversity is an integral part of who we are. We’d also like for this school to be in the countryside, in order to offer a training program to those who don’t have the chance to live in big cities. People shouldn’t have to move as much as I did to dance!

Translated by Maëla Tasset

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