The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Ballet legend choreographs, teaches University Dancers

Jean-Paul Comelin has danced, choreographed and taught at institutions as prominent as the Paris Opera Ballet and the London Festival Ballet, and has spent the past few months sharing his extensive knowledge of ballet with the students of the University of Richmond.

Comelin was born in France, but resides in the United States. He helped choreograph the University Dancers' performance last spring, and is currently choreographing a ballet titled "Twenty5," for the Dancers' 25th anniversary performance this February.

The three University Dancers that will be performing in Comelin's ballet - seniors Juliette Jeanfreau and Liz Uyeda and junior Stacy Smith - dance with Comelin twice a week.

Anne Van Gelder, assistant director of dance, works alongside Comelin on the number. Each dancer is being encouraged to find the inspiration behind the character she is portraying in the performance, and Gelder said they were journaling about their experiences.

Jeanfreau said working with Comelin had been one of the most challenging, yet also one of the most rewarding experiences during her time dancing at Richmond.

"He treats his dancers like professionals and demands that we bring everything we have as dancers to the table," she said.

Comelin has joined the faculty for the semester as an artist-in-residence in the department of theatre and dance. He also teaches an intermediate-level ballet class open to all majors and minors, as well as co-instructs a class titled "Theater and Dance in World Culture," he said.

Although teaching in a classroom setting is new to Comelin, he said he enjoyed sharing the knowledge he had gained from his extensive travels and his work with various institutions throughout the world.

"It is great for the students to learn about the difference in dances and choreography in other places," Comelin said. "For instance, 'The Nutcracker' performed in Japan and 'The Nutcracker' performed in South America are two different ballets, because of strong cultural influences. In the Japanese performance, every move is planned and perfected, and in a South American version it is much more relaxed."

Before coming to Richmond, Comelin had danced as a principal dancer for companies such as the Paris Opera Ballet, the London Festival Ballet, the National Ballet of Washington and the Pennsylvania Ballet. He has choreographed ballets for several institutions throughout the world, and has worked with artists such as Margot Fonteyn, Yvette Chauvire, Rudolf Nureyev, Carla Fracci and Michail Baryshnikov.

Comelin said he had first become interested in ballet when he dropped his sister off at her ballet class in Brittany, France, as a child. The ballet group consisted only of girls, and Comelin said his father had originally been against Comelin pursuing ballet, but his mother, a former actress, supported him, and she won in the end.

Although he has abundant knowledge of all aspects of ballet, Comelin said he found the process of choreography to be his favorite.

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"[Choreography] is a creative thing," he said. "The choreographer is like a painter. I see dancers and am inspired, and let them demonstrate and influence the moves. Classical repertoire isn't as rigid as it used to be; now it is freer and can fit a dancer's personality. ... It doesn't have to be as if you are in a closed box."

After his stay at the university, Comelin will start at the Washington Ballet and then work with dance companies in Milwaukee, Phoenix and Salt Lake City before traveling to Germany and lastly Urbania, Italy, to teach a summer workshop.

Comelin said he had been very excited to return to Richmond this semester, since he also helped last spring with the University Dancers.

"I have a special attachment and love for this place," he said. "The students are wonderful and they always give me 110 percent of themselves."

Contact reporter Margaret Finucane at

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