By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 7 JANUARY 2014 The gala performance of the three
hundredth anniversary of the Paris Opera School of Dance in May this year
opened with a beautiful new ballet, DOres et déjà, created for
the occasion by French choreographer/dancer, Nicolas Paul, in
collaboration with Béatrice Massin, a leading Baroque authority. I spoke
to Paul, the most gifted young choreographer to emerge from the Paris
Opera Ballet company in over 20 years, shortly after the last performance
of Neumeiers La
Dame aux Camélias, where he was interpreting the role of Gaston
Paul, a student of the school between 1990 and 1996, told me that
DOres et déjà developed from a suggestion by Brigitte Lefèvre,
the director of the Paris Opera Ballet who has consistently encouraged
young choreographers within the company to create works of their own. The
idea, he explained, was to bring contemporary dance and baroque together
to show how dance today draws on its roots.
The ballet, conceived for 17 dancers, all boys, had the young
interpreters moving in, out, and around a large, gilt-edged picture frame
set in the centre of a darkened stage, an idea inspired by one of the many
visits by the two choreographers to the French section of the Louvre
Museum. Set to a score by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Les Indes
Galantes, with superb costumes in shades of aubergine, plum and
burgundy, it proved a sumptuous opening to the programme.
Paris Opera Ballet: DOres et déjà
The success of the work was hardly surprising as Nicolas Paul, now aged
35, has been making a name for himself as a choreographer of quality for
some time with his original, inventive ballets.
"I dont really remember when I first began making up movements", he
reflected. "All I know is that I was very young, not even 10 or 11, but I
was nearer 20 when I began creating pieces which one could call
choreography. And then my first works were performed with dancers from the
opera, an enormous advantage for any choreographer as they are so
adaptable. Melanie Hurel, Bruno Bouché and Jean-Christophe Guerri, who
interpreted my first piece, understood what I wanted immediately.
"After that", he continued, "I began working on short pieces programmed
in theatres outside Paris, and then the small groups of dancers who
present mixed programs in smaller theatres outside the Opera, began
commissioning me. I also had works presented at the shows for young
choreographers, Danseurs Chorégraphes, which take place every two
to three years in the Amphitheatre of the Opéra Bastille, and give the
dancers in the company the opportunity to present their creations to the
Since those days Paul has made considerable progress, with more
accomplished ballets such as Gesualdo, for 5 dancers, completed
in 2006, where he was carried away by the sacred music of Don Carlo
Gesualdo. The ballet was well-received.
"I realized at this point that the most important aspect of
choreography is sincerity; to completely believe in what you are doing.
Inspiration can come from many directions, but one cannot create a work
aimed at simply pleasing the public. I obviously want my work to attract
audiences, but if I dont fall in love with the music, or indeed a
painting or even an interpreter, then I cant go ahead. That happened with
a work I wanted to create around Glenn Gould who fascinates me, but it
didnt happen, maybe because I didnt believe in it enough.
"My father loved music, so I grew up listening to all the
great composers and one of my aims is to grasp how to choreograph to
music. Balanchine, for example, had that unique fusion with his score.
Musicality, and silence, too, should it arise naturally, is of primordial
importance. Extracts from Gyorgy Ligetis scores were at the heart of my
first group work, Répliques, commissioned for the Paris Opera
Ballet on the stage of the Palais Garnier three years ago. The music
leaves the impression of a broken mirror and I wanted to reveal what the
mirror could not show, what was underneath".
With scenery designed by the architect Paul Andreu, Répliques
was a visually lovely ballet for 8 dancers, carefully constructed on the
theme of a mirror and ones double. It was neither narrative nor totally
abstract with Paul questioning mirrors, reflections, duplicates, themes
which take us back to the universal question of human identity.
Paris Opera Ballet
Choreography: Nicolas Paul
It has not always been easy for Paul, officially sujet in the company
to conciliate the two aspects of his career, complementary though they may
seem, for as far as planning is concerned, rehearsals and performances
take up a lot of his time. The lengthy preparation needed to take part in
the annual competition for promotion meant that to a certain degree, he
had to put his chances of advancement as a dancer aside to concentrate on
his choreography. But he has nevertheless been chosen for important roles
by visiting choreographers, not least Pina Bausch, whose work, Paul
acknowledged, belonged in "another world".
"Working with Bausch on her
Sacre and as a member of the corps de ballet in her first
staging of Orpheus and Eurydice was unforgettable", he said, "and
when Dominique Mercy chose me
to interpret Orpheus in the restaging of the work last year, it was the
finest experience I ever had in dance. Its such a privilege to be given
the opportunity to work with so many guest choreographers. I watch a lot
of videos but get few occasions to see other choreographers at work
elsewhere, which I would love to.
"However, on the positive side, not really knowing what is happening
beyond Paris has hopefully obliged me to develop a style and language of
Certainly one of his most recent pieces, Nobody on the
Road, created for the Ballet of Korea owed nothing to outside
influences, but everything to the discovery of Korean traditional music.
Paul told me that it was the first time hed worked abroad with dancers he
didnt know, and where he had known nothing neither of the culture nor the
"Music has always been very important to me", he said, "so I was very
moved when the composer told me that he recognized his music in my
choreography. It was a fascinating experience, the main difficulty being
the language barrier despite the excellence of my translator, who,
unfortunately for me, was not a dancer. We finally communicated in
English, but theirs was worse than mine, so almost everything had to be
conveyed by movement."
Finally, our conversation came to an end as Paul had to leave to
audition dancers for his latest project early next year, dance within the
opera, Platée by Rameau, in a staging by Robert Carsen. It was, he
explained, a co-production between the Theatre An der Wien and the Opéra
Comique in Paris, and he was going to be working with contemporary dancers
from different backgrounds.
Other projects he would love to be involved with are connected to
working within a museum such as the Louvre, being attracted by the
interaction between dance and the particular atmosphere there, to stage a
work connected to photography, and maybe one day to create a piece for the
luminous ballerina, Emilie Cozette, the woman he shares his life with
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has
contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing
Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on
Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for