The Séries Mania festival was an opportunity for Allociné to speak with Ariane Labed who plays the star dancer Zoé in “L’Opéra”, the new original creation from OCS which takes us behind the scenes of the Opéra Garnier. .
Allociné: The Opera is one of your first experiences on television, you are especially used to film sets. Why did you choose to play in the series?
Ariane Labed: When I read the scripts for L’Opéra, I fell in love with it. It was for me the perfect opportunity to find my first love: classical dance. It was an area that I loved very much when I was a little girl and a teenager. I thought I would become a dancer one day, but I finally changed my course. So I was necessarily moved at the idea of playing a ballet dancer.
I also really liked the construction of the characters in the series. They are really rich and have many facets, so they are not binary at all. I had the opportunity to portray a prima ballerina who has a behavior bordering on irresponsibility, very dark, who is a little out of step with the image we usually have of a prima ballerina but who at the same time possesses a powerful force. It was obvious to me that I had to play Zoe.
So you did dance when you were younger, but you still had to learn to dance again. How did the preparation process go for the series?
For several months, we worked with a team of choreographers and dancers. It was daily and very demanding training. I also wanted to be able to dance as much as possible. I wanted to try to find a level and put on spikes that I had not given for 20 years. It was a great challenge to take up. I had enough time to work on dance which gave me the opportunity to dance and play in the same project.
You have managed to practice enough to perform almost all of the dance scenes. What were the times when you had to resort to an understudy?
I tried to dance everything actually, but there were times when the shot was more impressive if it was a professional dancer taking the step or the movement. I tried to reach the best possible level with the time that I had but, obviously, on certain details, it was important to have someone whose job it was.
Some scenes of The Opera, especially the dance scenes, are very impressive. What was the hardest scene to shoot?
My biggest physical challenge was the swan lake sequence, because almost the whole stage is on pointe, more precisely on the left point, and that for a very long time. It was also a pas de deux, which I had done very little, if at all when I was younger because I gave up dancing when we started to learn it. It was really the hardest part for me.
The series tackles many issues related to the world of dance, such as the representation of minorities, the pressure placed on dancers whether in terms of physical form or body. Were these issues that you were aware of before reading the scripts for The Opera?
Yes, that was one of the reasons why I had stopped ballet dancing. I felt at one point that I could not thrive as a teenager and young woman staying in this world. The Opera was in a way a way for me to come to terms with classical dance. I was able to remember the happiness and joy that you can feel when you master your body.
But it cannot be denied that the whole culture around the ballerina’s body is very harsh. Fortunately, things are about to change. There are stars today which have different bodies and which are not necessarily all white. But you have to fight against a long tradition of a certain standard of beauty. I really liked being able to broach these subjects because it is something that I went through when I was a teenager. It’s very difficult to be at peace with your body when you’re dancing.
Did you look for inspiration in the work of other star dancers to create the character of Zoe?
I started following a lot of star dancers on Instagram because I needed to see what a dancer could look like, but I didn’t really have a specific person. If I could name one name, it would be Marie-Agnès Gillot. I find that she is very close to the role, she has a little “dark” side which moves me a lot and inspires me. But my character is not based on anyone in particular.
Did you receive any advice or help from former stars on the set?
No, I got help from dancers in general but no stars. And I didn’t necessarily want to have any, because there is a very dark side to Zoe, which we didn’t necessarily want to model on a particular dancer.
And then The Opera is a fiction. Zoe had to be able to reach people who did not necessarily have links to dance. I wanted to base myself on the fictional character created by Cécile Ducrocq rather than isolating the real in real star dancers. We were so surrounded by dancers on the set that we still had a concrete idea of what the job was.
How long did it take to learn a choreography?
For only a few seconds on the screen, it took several months of learning. In the end, even if during the editing, we only kept a few seconds, they were choreographies that were more of a duration of two or three minutes.
But, it was not necessarily the learning of the choreographies that took the longest, it was above all the execution and therefore the training. I had to work a lot on my points. I had to work up muscles that we don’t usually use.
It was months of work. Luckily, the confinement gave us time to prepare well. We had Zoom with the dancers where we did bars and bars on the floor and that 6 days a week. it allowed us to be able to develop all the muscles necessary to be able to do these choreographies.
The filming of certain scenes took place at the Opéra Garnier. For someone passionate about dance, this must have been a dream come true?
It’s a little girl’s dream. This is also one of the reasons why I made the series. I had visited the Opera when I was a little girl, I even found a photo of myself at 9 years old at the bottom of the steps that I had taken during a tourist visit. And being there, filming there and working there, it was obviously very moving. It is an incredible place, which is steeped in history.
The series has already been renewed for a season 2 which entered filming last June. Can you tell us a bit more about what’s in store for your character?
I can’t say anything very specific. But I can already tell you that we have resumed physical training.