Brigitte Lefèvre, Director of Ballet at the Paris Opera since 1995, will turn 68 later this year. The Paris Opera Ballet obliges ballerinas to leave at 42 with their pension; like it or not, ètoile or corps member, you're out. Lefèvre carries on, even though she is past the retirement age for French national institutions.
Maybe concerned that she would stay at the helm like Alicia Alonso in Cuba, 132 of her 154 dancers signed a letter to the Ministry of Culture underlining their anxiety over the future of the company. Although Lefèvre has, officially, only two more seasons before she steps down, the dancers consider this too long. Maybe it has to do with her programming which has become increasingly modern, yet this used to the the classical company par excellence.
Don Quixote and La Sylphide are the only pre-20th century ballets during the next season. Kylián, Béjart, Petit, Forsythe, Carlson, Neumeier, Robbins, Brown and Cunningham make up most of the rest, though a Balanchine triple bill will also let the dancers show off their classical style. The lack of traditional programming in this once so very traditional company has been noticed. After seeing the Paris Opera Ballet's performances in New York, Lynn Garafola wrote in Dance Magazine,
Lefèvre has stocked the POB repertoire with works by a host of contemporary European choreographers. True, the company still dances Balanchine, Robbins, and the “classics.” But if Giselle and Suite en Blanc are any indication, the company's heart lies elsewhere. That doesn't bode well for POB as a classical enterprise.
Though, horses for courses, Margaret Fuhrer in the Huffington Post says,
I had the opportunity to interview a few of POB's dancers for Pointe magazine, and they all seem intelligent, sophisticated, and fulfilled. They may be thoroughly classical animals, but thanks to POB's diverse repertoire, they know what's happening in the larger dance world, and they're better off for it. Onstage, wild, hungry American ballet dancers have the edge on POB's crystalline étoiles. But when it comes to programming, U.S. companies have a thing or two to learn from the French.
Brigitte Lefèvre is nodding furiously in agreement.
So the 132 who aren't nodding? Italian première danseuse with the company, Eleonora Abbagnato talked to Italy's newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. After a summer of taking Abbagnato e ses amis around Europe, she says she will be afraid to return to the company, even though Trisha Brown will be waiting for her, as will William Forsythe to put her in the Sylvie Guillem role in In the Middle Somewhat Elevated. She says that vendettas and feuds make the atmosphere unbreathable in Paris. Abbagnato has spoken in the past about the wall she has come up against under Lefèvre's reign which blocks her out of that small echelon of ballerinas called ètoile, even though she continually dances étoile roles. There are, of course, other dancers who equally consider that they are being unjustly shunned.
Of the three names for successors that Lefèvre has put forward – all dancers – Abbagnato favours Nicholas Le Riche. If she's backed the right horse she might be an étoile after all.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.