Learn how to move like a Cirque du Soleil superstar under the instruction of Sandrine Mattei.
By Jessie Dax-Setkus
When you witness any Cirque du Soleil show, you are bombarded by over-the-top creativity and impressive displays, with dancers, contortionists, aerial artists and more stepping into the spotlight. Who doesn’t want the core strength and athleticism that comes with that kind of training?
Sandrine Mattei appeared in shows like “The Beatles Love” and “Mystère” during her time as a Cirque du Soleil soloist, and is now revealing her moves during a series of ballet and contemporary dance classes at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center. Here, Mattei shares a little about the program and how you can learn to perform like a contemporary circus star.
Laguna Beach Magazine: What is your background performing with Cirque du Soleil?
Sandrine Mattei: I was hired by Cirque du Soleil for their brand-new production at the time, “The Beatles Love,” … at The Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas in 2006 as a dancer/soloist. The show was a partnership between Cirque du Soleil and The Beatles. Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison [and] Sir George Martin were involved in the creative process of the show. I was lucky to have been on stage and perform alongside them as well as [in various] TV appearances, [such as the] Grammy [Week] celebration, MusiCares, [the] “America’s Got Talent” finale, the James Cameron 3D movie “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” and many more. During my time at “The Beatles Love,” I became the show dance captain/artist coach and was featured in Dance Spirit magazine for my role. After seven years, I was offered a soloist role as The Black Widow in Cirque du Soleil original—and longest running production—“Mystère.” This was my opportunity to be a part of a more traditional Cirque du Soleil show. I danced with “Mystère” until my retirement in 2017.
What is involved in a typical class?
SM: In a typical classical ballet class, students start at the barre with a full progression of exercises that involves warmup, technique work, placement, stretching, core strength, balance [and] foot work, then you move on to center work where you will be doing adagio—slower, graceful movement combination; pirouette turns; [and] allegros—faster pace, livelier movement combination—with both barre and center. You’ll be moving through beautiful piano music tailored specifically for the different steps and tempo. Each level has appropriate difficulties. … For the contemporary classes, I run a warmup, including stretching, technique and a combo, which is a full choreography [routine] supported by more current music.
What are the fitness benefits of your class?
SM: The fitness benefits are, while moving gracefully—either at the barre or center—through beautiful music, you develop core strength [and] improve posture, flexibility, coordination, focus [and] cognitive function, and are able to express yourself artistically and release endorphins. Dance is really good for the soul as well as connecting with our community.
Is there any experience needed to take your class?
SM: [There is] no need to have experience for the beginner classes; the curriculum is designed to ease our first-timers into the art of classical ballet with gentle, explicit classes. The goal is to make the students fall in love with the art, get the healthy benefits of dance and enjoy themselves to the fullest. I offer classes at all levels, from beginners to intermediate to advanced. Also expect a safe, judgment-free … space that encourages body positivity, lots of positive reinforcement, meeting great people [and] connecting with the local art community. I am really passionate … [about] creating such a space for all, sharing my love for the art form and making people feel good.
What should you bring to class?
SM: You should wear a comfortable workout outfit or anything you can move freely in. If you wish, you can wear a leotard with [a] skirt or pants … [plus] ballet slippers or socks for footwear so you can articulate your feet freely and not slip.