A woman director of the National Paris Opera Ballet speaks of the dance company

For a dance company as old as the National Paris Opera Ballet, tradition must weigh heavily. This is a company whose origins stretch back to the mid-17th century when Louis XIV instituted its foundation, the Royal Academy of Dance. Tradition, which the company observes by staging various works of the classical repertory, is an integral part of the National Paris Opera Ballet. It gives the company prestige and its contemporary projects clout. But, the reverse is also true, for it is largely through the company’s contemporary approach, experimental work and innovative spirit that its tradition lives on. In what is one of the world’s most established and creative cultural institutions, modernity and tradition feed one other. For Brigitte Lefevre, director of the National Paris Opera Ballet since 1995, maintaining this balance is one facet of the entire business of running the company. Being the director of such a prestigious company must feel both a responsibility and challenge. But it must also seem like a huge task, split between organizational and artistic assignments. Lefevre, an ex-dancer, dance teacher and choreographer and one of the most prominent people in the dance world in France (she has been honored three times by the French State, is vice president of the National Music and Dance Conservatory of Paris and director of the National Center of Dance), is often credited for enlarging the repertoire of the company by inviting both established and young choreographers to work with the ballet. As a dancer, Lefevre embraced a broad scope of choreographic styles. Trained as a classical dancer at the Paris Opera School, she also tried other dance techniques and studied jazz with Jean Robertson. Works by artists such as George Balanchine, Roland Petit, Maurice Bejart, Gene Kelly and Michel Decombe are just a small example of the large choreographic repertory that Lefevre interpretted. The exposure she earned as a dancer, she put into her work as a choreographer. In 1970, she choreographed her first show and two years later established the «Theater of Silence» along with Jack Garnier. Since 1995, this rich background in choreography has gone into her work for the National Paris Opera Ballet. Pina Bausch, Edward Lock, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Angelin Preljocaj, Mats Ek, Michel Kelemenis (of Greek origin) and, this season, Trisha Brown’s first guest artist appearance at the Opera, are just a few of the choreographers invited to work with the ballet. Lefevre, who spoke with Kathimerini English Edition during her visit to Athens on the occasion of the staging of the ballet «Clavigo» (choreographed by Roland Petit) recently, said that working with different choreographers, while important, is only part of a broader artistic project. «Every encounter with a new choreographer or a new artist is for us like a voyage, an opening. At the same time, all this work with new choreographers is like branches that grow out of the main trunk, that is, classical, academic dance. For me, what is important in terms of both programming for the public and working with the dancers, is to build up a repertoire, not only with contemporary choreographers, but to equally integrate major works. Also, that this company with its academy of dance, an exceptional school founded by Louis XIV, has not ceased to evolve, guard its knowledge and science, while also having the desire to go forward, to advance and to open up rather than to remain in a position that is static in time,» said Lefevre. «All the classical ballets make up a facet of the repertory that is very important but, I think, not sufficient if there is no inclination to advance and discover.» Yet Lefevre believes that all classical ballets are still a living dance form much loved and richly attended by the public every season. Lefevre speaks with a care and responsibility for the Opera Ballet. She listens with care and responds with concentration and accuracy. Relaxed and serious at the same time, she exudes warmth and elegance and commands respect. Listening to her speak, one senses that what motivates her above all is her commitment to dance and her concern for the dancers as artists. «It is true that maybe in most companies they push dancers from very early on. At the Opera Ballet, I am very much concerned, the troupe and I, that is, pay much attention to the development of a dancer’s career through maturity, until the edge of discovering how to be in one’s body. I would like to accompany every dancer through all their different stages so that they are able to offer until maturity,» she says. Providing the opportunity for the fullest possible artistic expression by every single dancer is one of her priorities. This is why she also focuses much of her attention on the corps de ballet dancers. «I would like, from time to time, a dancer from the corps de ballet to feel artistically like an individual; thankfully, choreography today allows for that,» she says. The majority of the dancers come from the Paris Opera School. Lefevre herself was trained at the Opera School before she was admitted into the company at the age of 16. This rather closed system suggests that the school has a very specific style. «Of course, it is a school that has traversed time; it is a school of rigor, quite virtuoso, a school very much based on working the legs; the academy has a quality of French dance that is very distinctive,» says Lefevre, while also noting that dancers from outside are also admitted into the corps. «The company has a style that is very strong. It is a style that we have not lost with admitting new choreographers and have actually accentuated even further with the academic ballets,» says Lefevre. «It is a company that I find formidable. Of course, it is not my company but a company for which I have responsibility. The dancers have the desire to advance and discover. I think that it is a strong time for the Opera Ballet, whether it is the soloists or the corps de ballet,» said Lefevre. The artistic caliber at the performance of «Clavigo» is perhaps an indication of this «strong time» for which Lefevre, as the Opera Ballet’s director must certainly take much credit.