Photos by Francois Berthier and Jan Pol Dunand
Born on the 13th April 1959 in Petit-Quevilly, Thierry Malandain followed the usual path of a classical dancer but with a strong taste for the unconventional and an unusual tenacity. Instead of undertaking training in famous institutions, he followed the teachings of Jacques Chaurand, Monique Le Dily, René Bon, Daniel Franck, Gilbert Mayer and Raymond Franchetti. All of them are eminent and engaging teachers with a strong and picturesque personality.
In 1986, Thierry Malandain made a bet. He left the Ballet Théâtre Français de Nancy with eight dancers and set up the Compagnie Temps Présent in Elancourt (78), in the suburbs of Paris. He deliberately chose to get off the beaten track and undertake a mammoth task. The following season, he was awarded by the Fondation de la Vocation and the Fondation Oulmont and won the 1st Prize of La Baule choreographic competition, the 1st Prize of Vaison-la-Romaine choreographic competition and the Prix de la Nuit des Jeunes Créateurs in Paris with Angelin Preljocaj and Claude Brumachon. Thierry Malandain began to make himself known as a promising young talent thanks to several works: L'Homme aux semelles de vent (1986), created to the music of Benjamin Britten and staged again under the title Les Illuminations (1989) for the dancer Patrick Dupond and the Ballet National de Nancy, Edgar Allan Poe (1988), to scores by Claude Debussy and André Caplet, and especially Folksongs (1986), choreographed to the music of Benjamin Britten and performed by several companies, including the Ballet de Tours of Jean-Christophe Maillot.His unique positioning was confusing for the French choreographic community but not for the international audience.
In 1997, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication and the City of Biarritz offered Thierry Malandain to set up the first classical Centre Chorégraphique Contemporain in the Basque coastal resort of Biarritz. It happened so fast that the Centre Chorégraphique National - Ballet Biarritz opened in September 1998 in the Gare du Midi, a large building abandoned by trains and whose two big square towers overlook Biarritz pleasant gardens.
The company did not reduce its activity. With the support of Jean-Louis Pichon, Thierry Malandain began to recreate the complete works of Massenet (Le Cid, Le Carillon and Cigale) from 1999. In 2000, La Chambre d'Amour, a musical creation by Peio Çabalette telling a beautiful local legend, came as a tribute to the new integration of the choreographer in the city. In 2001, Thierry Malandain paid tribute to the Ballets Russes by creating an eloquent, touching and audacious programme.
In 2003, Ballet Biarritz took a major creative step with Les Créatures, choreographed to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. This powerful, graphic and ambitious work engendered a feeling of maturity and poise that earned the Ballet greater recognition. For the first time in its history, the troupe officially performed in Paris (Théâtre national de Chaillot) thanks to Dominique Hervieu and José Montalvo, while Les Créatures were nominated at the Benois de la Danse in Moscow and received the Critics Prize at the 19th International Ballet Festival of Havana in Cuba.
In 2004, Le Sang des Etoiles confirmed the company’s success. The CCN then became one of the most productive choreographic centres, with the biggest number of performances per year and a strong international presence. The institution also grew in strength. In 2000, Thierry Malandain's ability to create unanimity led him almost naturally to the head of the Temps d'Aimer festival, organised in Biarritz. In the same year, he founded a cross-border junior ballet in collaboration with the Basque Spanish community in Donostia-San Sebastián. He juggled all these projects during four years.
In 2005, the choreographer gave up his post as artistic director of Le Temps d'Aimer festival to focus on his work. He then created two works based on the spirit of Pre-romantic ballet: Les Petits Riens (2005), to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Don Juan (2006), to a score by Christoph Willibald Gluck. In the meantime, the Paris Opera Ballet commissioned Thierry Malandain to create L'Envol d'Icare (2006), a ballet set to a score by Alfred Schnittke, which was later nominated at the Benois de la Danse in Moscow. Most of Thierry Malandain’s ballets are now listed in the repertoire of other big companies worldwide, such as the Sadamatsu Hamada Ballet, the Teatro di San Carlo of Naples, the Staatsoper and the Volksoper in Vienna and numerous ballet troupes from Caracas, Hong Kong, West Palm Beach, Aspen, Cairo, Riga, Tunis, and Karlsruhe... In France, his works entered the repertoire of the Ballet de l'Opéra national du Rhin, the Ballet national de Marseille, the Ballet de l'Opéra national de Bordeaux, the Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse…
In 2008, Thierry Malandain created L'Amour sorcier by Manuel de Falla and Le Portrait de l'Infante, choreographed to the music of Maurice Ravel. In this ballet, the dancers performed around three Ménines of Manolo Valdès, a Spanish painter and sculptor influenced by Diego Vélasquez. Thierry Malandain began to miss the fieldwork. By the end of 2008, after having celebrated the ten years of his company in Biarritz, the choreographer resumed his post as artistic director of Le Temps d'Aimer festival to the request of Didier Borotra, the mayor of the city. In December, Thierry Malandain staged a new production of Carmen (1996), to the music of Franz Schubert. This work marked his appointment to the head of the CCN Ballet Biarritz.
In August 2009, Thierry Malandain was made an “officier” in the Order of Arts and Letters. The new name of the company, "Malandain Ballet Biarritz", heralded a new era for the choreographer. Two new creations followed: Magifique (2009), to the music of Piotr Illitch Tchaikovsky and Roméo et Juliette (2010) by Hector Berlioz. Both found favour with audiences and critics. For the second time of his career, Thierry Malandain collaborated with a composer, Guillaume Connesson, resulting in the ballet Lucifer (2011). The score was interpreted by the Orchestre de Pau Pays de Béarn, conducted by Fayçal Karoui, who is also the musical director of the New York City Ballet. In 2012, the Opéra de Reims commissioned Thierry Malandain to create a ballet to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their fruitful collaboration. As he was given a free rein, the choreographer chose to explore an unusual musical world by using traditional French songs interpreted by Le Poème Harmonique of Vincent Dumestre to create Une Dernière Chanson. This work was awarded by the Grand Prix du Syndicat de la Critique Théâtre, Musique et Danse in the dance category in 2012.
In 2013, as Malandain Ballet Biarritz gave more than hundred performances per year, Thierry Malandain created Cendrillon to the music of Sergei Prokofiev to the request of Laurent Bruenner, the director of the Opéra royal de Versailles. The performances of this ballet were given on the wonderful stage of the Royal Opera of the Palace of Versailles with the accompaniment of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi from Donostia-San Sebastián, conducted by Josep Caballé-Domenech. A triumph of humanity, Cendrillon was unanimously acclaimed by the press and audiences. In 2014, Thierry Malandain was named “Best Choreographer” at the Taglioni European Ballet Awards, organised by the Malakhov Foundation in Berlin.
French association of professional critics gave the "Best company » of the year 2017 Award to the Malandain Ballet Biarritz following its performances of Noah in Chaillot, national theatre of the Danse.
In 2019, Thierry Malandain was appointed at the Académie des beaux-arts in Choreography Department, along with Blanca Li and Angelin Prejlocaj. Four seats were vacant, three were filled. Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián joined the Académie des beaux-arts in March, but in the Foreign Associate Members' Department.