Belgian prima ballerina turns instructor
Bernice Coppieters has inspired many of Europe's top ballets
Posted: August 3, 2011
In the National Theater's ballet studio, it's another tough dance rehearsal. A tall, elegant woman with an athlete's sculptured body and a velvet voice with a slight French accent instructs a few Czech ballerinas. They repeat the same dance again and again as the woman carefully perfects the details of a new production. Her name is Bernice Coppieters.
For the past 20 years, this Belgian dancer has been the inspiring muse of some of the most beautiful ballets in Europe. In the ballet studio, she is perfection in motion; one can't fail to notice her strength and grace and how precisely every muscle in her body works. Later, sitting in the theater canteen, she speaks animatedly, using her entire body, about her life in dance. Her personality and charisma are captivating.
For the past two decades, this prima ballerina has danced all the principal roles from the repertoire of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. As Coppieters explains, when she met Monte-Carlo Ballet's Director Jean-Christophe Maillot for the first time in 1991, she knew immediately she would dedicate herself to him. Since then, she has allowed him to "sculpt" her and guide her throughout the career.
"It was love at first sight, ballet-wise I mean. I still remember the first audition I did for Maillot. From the moment I started to dance his steps, I felt that this is the style I feel best doing: sensual, precise and very musical. I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do," she says.
Favorite choreographer: J.-Ch. Maillot
Years with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo: 20
Awards and honors: Officier du Mérite Culturel of the Principality of Monaco in 2002; 2005 Italian Etoile of the Year
It's clear the feeling was mutual, and Coppieters quickly become Maillot's favorite dancer. Over the years, he has created numerous leading roles for her: Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, The Nutcracker Circus, La Belle, Le Songe, Faust, Sheherazade and Fauves are some of Maillot's significant ballets Coppieters has illuminated by her interpretation around the world. Besides being Maillot's muse, Coppieters has also interpreted Russian ballet's historical masterpieces and the Balanchine repertoire. In the process, she has attracted the attention of renowned choreographers who have had residencies at les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, including William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Karole Armitage, Twyla Tharp, Uwe Scholz, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Johan Inger, Alonzo King, Marco Goecke, who created the solo Tué for her, and Maurice Béjart, who offered her the privilege to dance his Bolero.
As homage to Coppieters' outstanding international artistic career, she has been nominated as Officer of the Order of Cultural Merit of the Principality of Monaco. She received the Positano "Léonide Massine" Award in 2003, and was awarded by the jury of Premio Danza at Danza, "Etoile of the year" for 2005.
Coppieters has performed in the Czech Republic several times, first coming to Prague in November 2007 with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo to perform one of her signature roles, the title role in Romeo and Juliet.
"By then, I had danced Juliet more than 170 times. But for the Prague performances, I had a new dance partner. When dancing in such a difficult ballet with a new partner, it's really something special, something you never forget. ... And the energy in Prague was just amazing. I was enchanted by the beauty of the city, which is really wonderful," she says.
In her early 40s, Coppieters' age is not a sensitive topic of conversation, as one might expect. She isn't scared of the fact that her career as an active prima ballerina is very likely coming to its end. She says she is putting her focus in a different direction, working with dancers in companies around the world who are staging Maillot's productions. She remains positive about the future.
"I've had a beautiful career with plenty of great roles," she says. "And now I am on the edge. But I have my own future plans, and actually I've been realizing them already. I've been dancing in [Maillot's] creations for so many years now. I sometimes have the impression that it was him who taught me how to dance. I learned everything from him, not only about ballet, but also about acting," she says. "But I've never wished for anything; I've never been looking forward too much. I think that's why when something happens to me I am always surprised, always happy and never disappointed. Let's see what the future brings."
Whatever the future brings for Coppieters, her grace will surely serve her well.
Johana Mücková can be reached at
Tags: dance theater, arts news, interview, bernice coppieters, prague, czech republic, ballet.