The flamboyant French ballet star Patrick Dupond has died after a “devastating illness” – he was 61. His collaborator, Leïla Da Rocha, said,
Patrick Dupond has died after a “devastating illness” – he was 61. His collaborator Leïla Da Rocha said,
When asked by The New York Times in 1986 whether he thought he'd make a good model for young dancers, he replied:
I feel I have so much bad sides, it would not be a good idea to copy me. I have a very personal style. But I wish the next generation of dancers will be in the Dupond style: strong technique, joy and deep action. That would be fun for the audience.
His teacher, Max Bozzoni, at his studio near Pigalle, had a nine-year-old student arrive, only to be disappointed that boys did not dance on pointe. That little boy was Patrick Dupond. Years later, with his impish sense of humour, he would dance on pointe at a gala in Tokyo when he danced (comically) the white swan.
Dupond was a frequent guest at La Scala since his debut in 1986 in Béjart's Boléro, in 1987 Balanchine's The Prodigal Son, Giselle with Carla Fracci, and Don Quixote. He was in the live transmission of the opening of the 1989/1990 season in Micha van Hoecke's virtuosic dances from Verdi's I vespri siciliani, again with Fracci.
Manuel Legris, current director of La Scala's ballet company, Dupond's colleague at Paris Opera Ballet, and a fellow Basilio with Dupond in the 1987 run of Don Quixote at La Scala, said,
How sad today to learn of the passing of Patrick Dupond, one of the greatest French dancers of his generation. His charisma and generosity on stage have left their mark on everyone's mind. There are and always will be unforgettable memories for me and for a whole generation of dancers. He was obviously admired in France and around the world, but he was also particularly loved by the Italian public. You left too early but you never did anything like the others. Happy journey among the stars.
Carla Fracci added,
It is with great sadness that I hear of the loss of Patrick, a great dancer and dear friend, with whom I shared the stage as my partner in several ballets. We will miss you Patrick!
Luciana Savignano who danced the role of the Siren with Dupond in The Prodigal Son, as well as taking turns with him and Jorge Donn in Boléro, said,
Patrick was a genius of the dance: fantastic, generous, an incredible dancer, I loved him dearly.
Dupond entered the Paris Opera's Ballet School in 1969 at the age of ten for a three-month preparation course and continued his training there whilst also taking private lessons under Bozzoni. He joined the Paris Opera Ballet's Corps de Ballet in 1975 and became a Quadrille in 1976. That same year, he won the Gold Medal and the Grand Prize at the Varna International Ballet Competition. In 1977, Roland Petit gave him his first role as a soloist in Nana. Promoted to Premier danseur in 1979, he danced Maurice Béjart's Boléro.
He was elevated to the rank of Étoile at the Paris Opera in 1980 for his performance in Vaslaw, a piece created for him by John Neumeier. His success was international working with some of the greatest choreographers of the time, including Maurice Béjart (Salomé), John Neumeier (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Rudolf Nureyev (Romeo and Juliet), Alvin Ailey (On top of the Precipice), Roland Petit (Le Jeune Homme et la mort, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra), Robert Wilson (Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien), Alwin Nikolais (Schema) and Twyla Tharp (Push comes to shove, Grand pas).
As Étoile he was dancing about 45 nights a year, but when Rudolf Nureyev took over the company in 1983 they had a falling out. Under Nureyev, Dupond danced only 15 times a year and he left the Paris Opera Ballet in 1985 to give himself more freedom, and later that year founded a group called Dupond and His Stars, which toured in Japan and in France.
He left the Paris Opera in 1987, returning as a guest Étoile prior to taking over as Artistic Director of the Ballet Français in Nancy. Yet from 1990 to 1995, he held the position of Dance Director of the Paris Opera, succeeding Rudolf Nureyev. At 30, he was the youngest person ever to be named head of France's premier ballet company. France's Culture Minister, Jack Lang, said,
Certainly, he's young, but that's not a flaw, it's an advantage. He has a lot of punch. He has a natural authority and a kind nature that should help him manage the company.
During his five-year tenure at the Paris Opera, he presented numerous choreographed works by figures from the vanguard of “Young French Dance”, including Odile Duboc, Daniel Larrieu, Joëlle Bouvier and Régis Obadia. He also revived the great classical ballets which Rudolf Nureyev had restaged (Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadère, Don Quichotte), he brought Manon into the repertoire, and he called upon the talents of neo-classical choreographers like John Neumeier (The Nutcracker) and Mats Ek (Giselle). Moreover, he invited some of the great dance companies, including the Nederlands Dans Theater, the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the Tanztheater Wuppertal, the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas Company.
But in 1997, against a background of dissension with the new management of the Paris Opera – Hugues Gall and Brigitte Lefèvre – he was dismissed for, in his words, “his insubordination and indiscipline” when he'd agreed, without the consent of his employer, to sit on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival. Patrick Dupond was eventually compensated for his dismissal.
In 2000 he survived a serious car accident, emerging with 134 fractures, and the doctors told him that he would no longer be able to dance.
In 2017, the internationally renowned artist founded the “White Eagle Dance”, a dance school and company in Bordeaux with his collaborator and partner, Leïla Da Rocha. In September 2018, he was on the jury of the programme Danse avec les stars.
Top photo: Patrick Dupond at his White Eagle Dance Academy
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.