In an age of rapid success for influencers of all stripes, the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet embody a radically opposite lifestyle choice: total discipline and rigour from the age of 13, when they enter the school of dance, to retirement at 42. Recently, there has been a debate about the place of diversity at the Paris Opera, raising profound artistic and ethical questions. Dare we touch the masterpieces that have made the Paris Ballet so famous, adapting discriminating make-up here or a shocking name there? To conservative politicians who champion the myth of a supposedly untouchable tradition, enlightened voices have rightly replied that the great classical ballets, for the most part written in the 19th century, have already been the subject of numerous re-readings and reinterpretations. A venerable centre of high culture, the Paris Opera is one of those places where tradition and modernity tightly intertwine, and where the world of tomorrow is forged. Attracted by its sublimely elegant gestural language, a cohort of disciplined dancers gives shape to its repertoire, which includes classical ballets such as Giselle, Swan Lake, La Bayadère, La Sylphide and The Nutcracker, as well as pieces commissioned from important contemporary choreographers, like William Forsythe, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Pina Bausch. The pandemic, which prevented them from performing in front of an audience for over a year, has left the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet champing at the bit, all the while trying to adapt, like the rest of us, to the restrictions imposed by the virus.
In order to carry on as “normally” as possible, a digital platform was launched, and the perfor- mances, rehearsed and produced in the usual conditions, were filmed for online broadcast. “It’s really great that the Opera has taken this initiative,” comments dancer Marc Moreau, pictured in these pages. “But of course it doesn’t have the same flavour as performing in front of an audience: from one evening to the next, the public’s reaction at the Palais Garnier is totally different. Even without seeing them, you can really sense the audience, and it’s this exchange that gives meaning to our profession.” The adrenalin of live performance is something Moreau – now a premier danseur performing solo roles – unexpectedly experienced at his debut, in 2008, when he performed at the Opera in Benjamin Millepied’s Triade. “I was only supposed to be a substitute, but I ended up dancing the piece after Jérémie Bélingard was forced to withdraw. I remember my emotion at the end of the first evening, when I took a bow next to [the étoiles] Marie-Agnès Gillot and Laëtitia Pujol.” Among the high points of his career, Moreau also lists working with the choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, whose compositions reach extreme levels of physical and emotional intensity for those who give them life. “His Faun is amazing, and also my most challenging experience to date.”
Dedicated body and soul to their discipline, the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet spend their entire career oscillating between the absolute rigour of classical ballet – a true test of endurance that often lasts three hours – and periods of research under the direction of contemporary choreographers who ask them to draw on different resources of expressiveness. Letizia Galloni played a key role in Pina Bausch’s legendary piece The Rite of Spring, set to the equally legendary Stravinsky score. “It’s my most beautiful stage memory,” she says. “I danced the role of the Chosen One, she who is to be sacrificed. I really felt I was going to die – I can’t describe the emotional power of that moment.” The break caused by the pandemic has allowed the young artist – already noticed by Benjamin Millepied when he was director of dance – to take part in Boris Charmatz’s La Ronde, an insane experiment in which dancers from very different backgrounds took turns performing duets in a 12- hour marathon. In addition to an excerpt from Nureyev’s Don Quixote with Axel Ibot, Galloni also performed, with Florian Spiry, in contemporary artist Tino Sehgal’s Kiss. Like Sehgal’s piece, “La Ronde is performance art, not a show. We danced from 7.00 am to 7.00 pm, and the more tired we became, the more the emotion in our performance hit the mark.” Galloni has also caught the eye of fashion designers, among them Virgil Abloh, who has offered her carte blanche on his new platform, Imaginary TV.
During the pandemic, dancers Isaac Lopes Gomes and Guillaume Diop took part in numerous fashion shoots. Their beauty and elegance remain impeccable even in the most perilous of jumps. “Working in fashion is natural for us, because as dancers we know how to position ourselves in relation to the light and the lens,” explains Lopes Gomes. “Since childhood, we’ve learned how to hide the effort required for our jumps and movements.” Like Galloni, Lopes Gomes and Diop were co-signatories to the manifesto for diversity at the Paris Opera, which garnered them a lot of media attention. Contrary to what certain dishonest voices would have us believe, none of them is an apostle of cancel culture. “Obviously we love the great classical ballets, otherwise we would have joined another company,” says Lopes Gomes. “We love the Paris Opera, and are very happy to be part of it. Moreover, there’s no internal tension: we all worked together with the management on the changes to be made.” Aged just 20, Diop was delighted to take part in La Bayadère, the recording of which was broadcast online, as the show could not be performed in front of an audience. Currently a quadrille, he dreams of one day becoming an étoile and dancing the mythical role of Prince Siegfried in Nureyev’s Swan Lake. “I recently got to dance the pas de deux from act 3 of Sleeping Beauty, a Ballets Russes classic, in front of an audience of Paris Opera employees. I must admit that performing in front of people, even if there were only 200, and hearing applause, felt pretty good.” His morale must also have been boosted by Kim Jones, artistic director of Dior menswear, who invited him to attend his runway show last January.
Première danseuse Silvia Saint-Martin is currently rehearsing one of Nureyev’s great ballets, Romeo and Juliet. Dancing the heroine in Shakespeare’s tragedy, she appreciates the choreography of this serious role. “The movements are very free, very danced, often spiral, and remind me of the role of Cinderella that I danced alongside François Alu for my very first major ballet.” These spiralling movements are reminiscent of the twists and turns imposed on Fendi’s “FF” monogram by artist Sarah Coleman, a psychedelic vision typical of this young New Yorker’s work, which revisits the monograms of major fashion houses in a humorous and offbeat spirit. Stamped with the relooked logo, baptized FF Vertigo, the capsule collection, developed in collaboration with Fendi’s creative director Silvia Venturini Fendi, is inspired by the pleasure of freedom and outdoor life. Sporty and joyful, it takes flight this summer to celebrate the renewal of hope.
Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet, 10 June– 10 July, www.operadeparis.fr
Fendi summer collection with Sarah Coleman, now available in stores, www.fendi.com