By MADISON MAINWARING
Earlier this month, Aurélie Dupont took over for Benjamin Millepied as director of dance at the Paris Opera — making her, in an industry that is still surprisingly male–dominated, one of the few women in the world directing a ballet company. Her credentials are impeccable: She’s a former étoile ballerina and was one of the most sought-after dancers in the world until ending her performance career in May 2015. As a dancer, Dupont called the Paris Opera home for 32 years — and with a 350-year-old legacy that makes it the oldest of its kind, the company is where ballet was born. But Dupont argues that in no way does this prevent it from remaining relevant to contemporary audiences. “Classical dance is an extraordinarily precise and physical art form,” she says. “It’s like a Chanel handbag — it endures through the generations. The old steps of ‘Swan Lake’ can be danced in ways which make them new. Just like your grandmother’s Chanel can be worn with sneakers in order to keep it modern.”
If you associate ballerinas with pink tights and tulle, start thinking differently. “I like my clothes to be a little mec,” she says (French slang for “boyish”). Critics described her onstage as both “chaste, slightly cool,” and “intriguingly flirtatious,” and she dresses as she used to dance, exuding feminine strength with a subtle sex appeal. This past spring Dupont, 43, was the face of a campaign for Jérôme Dreyfuss. She’s also starred in a number of films, most notably Frederick Wiseman’s “La Danse.”
She met T between briefings at the Palais Garnier, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and barely a trace of makeup, to offer advice in wellness, beauty — and to discuss how she strikes a balance both on and off the stage.
Dupont doesn’t have any dietary restrictions. “I have two small children, so yes, I eat chocolate cake and bonbons because they are right under my nose.” She likes vegetables, she explains, “not for my health, but because they’re delicious.”
“Everyone is always trying to break out of their style in an effort to try to make themselves over. But when you spend an hour picking out an outfit, you are disguising yourself. No matter how beautiful the garment, you can tell if someone is uncomfortable in what they’re wearing. In order to have a real style you have to be comfortable — it’s the clothes with the body.”
After retiring from the stage last year, Dupont took a day off before going back to class. “I might not understand the joggers who are out in Central Park at seven in the morning — I’ve never done that — but dancing is my sport. I imagine that it’s the same for other athletes — the sweat, the intense connection with the body. When I don’t have this, I miss it.”
Dupont’s morning ritual consists of a cup of tea with lemon and a touch of honey. “Sometimes I know I won’t have the sufficient time to hydrate at work. So I always have tea. And then I drink lots of water — liters of it as I prepare for the day ahead.”
“When I was younger, I was very hard on myself. The lesson came when I received a career-threatening knee injury, and had to listen to this pain. I learned to accept and like my body, to take good care of it, acknowledging it as the instrument of my work. Now I’m finally at peace with it.”
“On stage, you wear foundation and fake eyelashes. I’ve always made a point of never going to bed with makeup, even when I get home at five o’clock in the morning. If something’s changed over the course of the past 20 years, it’s the way I treat my skin with my hands. I used to be much more aggressive when washing my face, but I showed this once to a specialist and he told me ‘This is violent, what you’re doing!’ So now I’m delicate and gentle when I touch my skin.”
Dupont cites personal relationships as some of her foremost inspirations. Her favorite brands range from Chloé to Isabel Marant; the majority of the designers are based in Paris, and she calls them friends. “I always like meeting and knowing the artists behind the work,” she says. This carries over to her own job, too. “The dance world is wonderfully collaborative, and so I look toward others for an optimistic outlook and a sense of humor.” The advice she gives her dancers is applicable to all. “What we do here is very difficult, but it’s still important to lead as ‘normal’ a life as possible, and I think that balance is achieved with companionship and support. You cannot be alone — family, close friends and partners form an integral part of each person’s success.”
This interview has been translated from the French, condensed and edited.