If anyone embodies the French spirit of ballet, it is Aurélie Dupont. Currently, she is the Paris Opera Ballet’s Director of Dance, a post she took in 2016 after performing with the company for nearly 30 years. During that time, she reached the company’s highest rank for dancers, étoile, reigning as a supreme example of the French style, with her own creative personality.
This summer, she switches gears for Lincoln Center Festival. From July 13 to 15, she stars in “KARAS: Sleeping Water,” a new work by celebrated Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara.
Ahead of that performance, she shares advice on how to reach your best at every stage of your career.
What advice would you give to the 8-year-old who dreams of being a star?
Work, work, work.
To the adolescent who is having trouble in her training?
I would say that adolescence is hard for everyone, but you have the chance to do something completely unique, and you can’t let that pass you by.
To a new member of the corps de ballet?
You are finally free. You’re not at school anymore and you’re no longer at risk of being held back, so you feel secure. And for all these reasons, you must work twice as hard. It’s a delicate moment.
You’re still very young but you have a salary, the security of a job, and more freedom, so you feel relaxed. You’re finally able to really go out, have dinner with friends, buy yourself things, and that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do.
Of course, enjoying life and having friends is important, but you can’t binge on all the things that were forbidden before because once you fall out of your habits, it’s hard to climb back up.
Know that if you don’t go to morning class, someone else will and they will take your place. If you’re not going to work, or if you prefer to sleep in, know that someone else is willing to, and they will make progress when you don’t. Reflect carefully on your strengths and weaknesses, and be certain that your frustrations are justified.
To the mid-career dancer who isn’t satisfied?
Well, being an artist means living in a constant state of frustration, because we always want more!
But I would tell you to reflect very carefully on your strengths and weaknesses, and be certain that your frustrations are justified. Sometimes I see dancers who ask to dance a role and, to me, they just aren’t made for it. But they are perfect for something else.
It’s important to be honest about what we’re good at and what we’re not so good at. Because if you know what you’re good at and the director of dance sees it the same way, you’re more likely to be well cast and the frustration is diminished. If we don’t see things in the same way, that’s where frustration arises.
For the injured dancer?
It’s very important to respect your body. That means asking things of it, working it, but never pushing it too far. Respecting your body means working it regularly. You can’t ask impossible things of your body on Monday, do nothing until Friday, and then ask it to do enormous things again on Saturday.
You have to work it a little bit every day. The key is finding the balance between pushing enough to achieve and surpass goals, but not forcing so much that you hurt yourself. And as soon as there’s an injury, don’t hesitate to see the best doctor and take care of it very quickly. Otherwise you lose time.
Sometimes there are dancers who feel pain, take a break for two weeks, restart, and then are hurt again. They lose months and months not knowing what they have and this can often make the injury harder to take care of when it is finally diagnosed.
Finally, for a dancer who is arriving at the end of their time on stage?
Think well in advance about what you’d like to do. Prepare your goodbyes to the stage and never think “it’s fine if we don’t make a big deal about it.” It’s very important for an audience to say goodbye to an artist, and it’s very important for an artist to say goodbye to the audience.
You don’t realize it right away; you realize it later. It’s like saying to someone, “I don’t love you anymore.” It’s hard to say, but it’s important for the person who says it as well as for the person who hears it. There is anxiety that arises as you prepare for your retirement. The étoile dancer has the impression that she can never do anything else, because dance is what she did best.
And on the other hand, the quadrille that never really rose up the ladder has anxiety because she says to herself, “I never succeeded. How will I succeed in anything else?” These are two very different hang-ups, but in both cases the lesson is that you shouldn’t judge yourself. You must simply say, “That was a period of my life and it has to end.”
Say goodbye to the stage and let go of the judgments. You don’t want to look at everything that happened before with sadness and regret.
Translated from the French by Nicole Howell