Sandrine Cassini & Ballet Victoria Make Me Almost Forget a Toothache

This is a tough blog to write because I have so many ideas running around in my head and I don’t know which direction to take. As my good friend Mark Budgen (the eccentric Englishman) is wont to say, “Alex you need an editor.” I will begin by plagiarizing myself from a previous blog where I write about my first contact with dancer Sandrine Cassini who is my subject for today.

In was sometime in early 2003 that I went to a rehearsal of a Ballet BC program held at the Vancouver Dance Centre on Davie and Granville. I watched all the dancers I knew, flex, bend and stretch. But then my eyes suddenly followed a ballerina who was walking like no ballerina I had ever seen before. I went up to her and introduced myself and asked about her. Her name was Sandrine Cassini and she was French. I enquired as to her training and she told me that she had danced with the Paris Opera Ballet! I became most excited promising myself to ask her in a near future, once I got to know her better about a project I had in mind that had occurred to me the instant I found out she had danced with Paris Opera Ballet. The graceful Cassini had something which I would simply define as presence and I was not the only to notice it. The then director of Ballet BC, John Alleyne picked her for the principal role of Alberta Ballet’s Carmen choreographed by its director Jean Grand- Maître which had its Vancouver premiere later that year in October.

The Georgia Straight assigned me to photograph the principals, Sandrine Cassini and Edmond Kilpatrick. I took some good photographs of them together and some better ones of Cassini alone. It was after that session that I gained enough confidence to ask her to pose for me as a grown up Degas’ Little Dancer Age Fourteen. I had recently read that the little girl’s name was Marie van Goethem and that shortly after she had posed for Degas she left the Paris Opera Ballet and became a prostitute under her mother’s tutelage. I was shocked and saddened. I wanted to do a sequence of photographs in which there was a rosier future for the unfortunate girl.

Eight years later I drove tonight to North Vancouver to the Centennial Theatre for a Ballet Victoria program called Ballet Rocks — From Bach to Pink Floyd. I had one of the worst toothaches of my life. Before leaving I had taken a couple of extra strength Tylenols and when no relief was imminent I swished some expensive Calvados in my mouth which deadened the pain a bit. As I was driving (I was driving with precision and not erratically) I was thinking what would happen if for some reason I would be stopped by a policeman who would then notice the alcohol breath:

You see sir, I have not seen the luminous, beautiful and intensely original ballet dancer for many years so I had to drive to North Vancouver. You see sir, I just took a swish of Calvados (that’s expensive French apple brandy to you) to kill the pain. Please do not impound my car. I have to make it to this performance. I promise I will drive carefully.

Fortunately no such thing happened and I arrived on time and enjoyed the fact that parking at the Centennial is free (those North Vancouverites must feel smug about this and keep it a secret). I purchased a ticket smack centre in the first row. The first dance, Daniela Sodero’s The Playground, featured what in my first impression were 7 performers who were very young and all had glowing smiles on their faces. It initially reminded me of the ballet as it was so many years ago in Vancouver back in the 90s. This impression was to change later on as I grew to appreciate Ballet Victoria’s young company of dancers and in particular in Cassini’s choreographed piece The Wall with music by Pink Floyd’s Another Brick on the Wall. It’s such a piece that might eventually, I hope, direct Ballet Victoria into the realm of a more modern ballet. It was when the music started, a recording of J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006, played by Hilary Hahn that my world imploded. The music seemed to have a sympathetic (and certainly with no sympathy) resonance with my upper back molar which vibrated much like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that collapsed in similar circumstances (a sympathetic vibration to wind) in 1940. The pain was excruciating as it drifted to my forehead and even my knees and toes. The second performance Facets of Light a premiere by Paul Knobloch with J.S. Bach’s Konzert f-mol BWV 1056 Largo featured Victoria Ballet artistic director (who is also a dancer in the company) Paul Destrooper and Sandrine Cassini changed my awareness of pain. Watching Cassini at first transported me into Santo & Johnny’s Sleepwalk. I floated and the pain almost disappeared. Then I felt a knot in my stomach somewhere near the heart and I knew the reason I had driven to North Vancouver was justified in spades. I really did not notice Destropper’s partnering, which was most adequate, because my eyes were fixed on a dancer who somehow was more beautiful than I remembered her and her body was tight with shapely thigh muscles. Her hair was pulled back. It emphasized the exquisite narrowness of her face and her prominent Gallic nose. Watching her dance seemed to stop time for me.

Later I thought about the three types of tango dancers I danced with in my past. Consider that I am at best an adequate tango dancer and no better so whatever I may write here should be taken lightly. Most of my partners (who had to struggle with my down-to-earth adequateness) were easy to maneuver on the dance floor. They were light of feet. Dancing with them was easy. Another few (and these I tried to avoid) were difficult to move, either because they were heavy of foot and build or they were simply smart enough to know that my directions were muddled. But there was a third type of dancer (and they were few) who were neither light nor heavy. They seemed to offer a slight resistance to my directions. I would call it damping as in a damped spring for a swinging door. Everybody knows that in Argentine tango the man is in charge and the woman has to follow a slight beat behind. But I know better. That rare class of woman, one for sure was called Iris offered this resistance in partnership. She was telling me with her resistance, “Don’t show off. Take it easy. Go at it slow. The pause is just as important in tango as the move.”

Iris’s method is one that I once discussed with Max Wyman. We are both enamored with Evelyn Hart. Hart was in town some years ago and it was one of her last performances as a dancer in Vancouver that was the subject of our discussion. Many critics (certainly Wyman was not one of those!) commented on the fact that Hart was approaching an age when she should hang up her dance shoes and dedicate herself to choreography or to teaching. Wyman and I both begged and beg to differ. We saw in the many pauses that Hart put into her dancing, wonderful gaps between brilliant notes in music. Music without pauses could not possibly sound like music. It would shake us into a Tacoma Narrows kind of collapse and oblivion. I must add here that I called up Wyman to relate my experience in North Van. His comment was immediate, “Cassini is a very good dancer.” When I asked him about that feeling I had when I watched Cassini do her slow dance and compared it to Hart’s he told me, “I cannot tell you exactly what that is except to say that it is like falling in love.”

Cassini is not 20 like many of those girls in Ballet Victoria whose technique is seemingly effortless. But she must be at the height of her dancing ability and her slowness in Facets of Light was yes, effortless grace, but an effortless grace that in its slowness was breathtaking. Like Evelyn Hart, perhaps Cassini knows something about “dancing with damping” and has many more years to thrill us all. I wonder if the folks at the Centennial Theatre had any inkling of this. I did, and was further rewarded with an iPhone snap of Cassini that even though she showed no resistance to pose (no damping) it is about as beautiful as anything I have seen for a long time.

Congratulations to Paul Destrooper and Ballet Victoria for collaborating with a dancer who has so much more to give. And if she is allowed to do so I see a rosy future for Ballet Victoria. As for all those young dancers of the company, quick in their skills, some, I am sure will learn that slowing down can be good. Carmen and Marie Van Goethem Share a Page Seeping Blood From the Paris Opera Ballet Strawberry Crepes and the Sugar Plum Fairy Dirty Dancing

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: