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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 26 JUNE 2010 — After a run of fifteen performances of Rudolph Nureyev’s poignant, much-loved version of La Bayadère, with different casts each giving their own interpretation of the story, the series ended with the nomination of Stéphane Bullion to the rank of étoile. If pyrotechnics were to be had with Dorothée Gilbert partnered by Mathias Heymann, tears elicited by the moving presence of Agnès Letestu partnered by José Martinez with a convincing Emilie Cozette in the role of Gamzatti and featuring a powerful, expressive performance from Yann Saiz as the jealous but doomed Grand Braham, excitement rose to its height on the last evening, June 2nd, which was crowned by the much merited nomination of thirty year-old Stéphane Bullion, dancing Solor for the first time at the Palais Garnier, to the highest rank in the company.  

Stéphane Bullion as Solor in La Bayadère
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

"It came as a great surprise to say the least", the dancer told me over an informal conversation in his dressing-room soon after his nomination. "I was leaving the stage with Delphine Moussin, who had interpreted Nikiya, and as I’ve been dancing main roles for the last three years now and there had always been unfounded rumours and speculation, a nomination to the rank of étoile simply wasn’t on my mind. But this time, not even Clothilde Vayer, our ballet mistress, was aware of it and moreover, all the dressers who normally love to share in the excitement had rushed off home!"

" I had already interpreted Solor on tour in Australia last year, but it isn’t even one of my favourite roles, as is Armand in John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias, the ballet which marked the turning point in my career", he commented with a smile. "It was all most unexpected."

I first saw Stéphane Bullion dance at the age of fifteen or sixteen, when he was one of the most outstanding pupils in the Opera School, and since he joined the Paris company I have enjoyed watching his progress over the years. He was chosen by Iouri Grigorovitch and Brigitte Lefèvre to interpret Ivan the Terrible in Grigorovitch’s ballet of the same name while still a member of the corps de ballet, after which his career was poised to take off. However, matters were disrupted when only days after a magnificent performance, where he showed great dramatic sensitivity in portraying the frenzied, but deeply romantic Tsar Ivan IV, he was taken into hospital, and subsequently ‘lost’ almost three years due to illness, injury and a resulting lack of confidence. On his return to the company, he was invariably cast in sombre ‘character’ roles, portraying Hilarion in Giselle, Rothbart in Swan Lake, and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, roles which all too often are considered as secondary.

"And then all of a sudden", he told me, "I seemed to go from the dark roles to the light when I found myself replacing Hervé Moreau in the filmed version of La Dame aux Camelias, partnering Agnès Letestu with whom I’d never danced before. She and John Neumeier changed my life, although it was unfortunate that my chance came at the expense of Hervé, injured at the time."

Stéphane Bullion in La Dame aux Camelias
Photo: Sebastien Mathé

"Agnès herself is both an extraordinary partner as well as an outstanding artist. She combines grace and poetry with gentle authority, and she reaches out to take you with her. She’s not there just for herself.   I have learned so much from her. Since the film was made, when I was unfamiliar with the role and felt enormous pressure, we have had time to work together and I was so happy with the second programming of the ballet."

"I also love working with Nicolas Le Riche for he, too, gives so much to his partner. He brings out the best in everyone.  It was a joy to work with him in Siddharta. Both he and Agnès are very special people."

To the question as to what changed when one was became an étoile, the highest accolade within the company, Bullion shrugged and said that he still had a long way to go. He was immensely happy about it, but said that it was an honour he would have to work at to deserve. It meant that his work had been recognized, that he would be able, he hoped, to dance the roles he longed to dance, and to have even more opportunity to work at creations than in the past.

Stéphane Bullion in Siddharta
Anne Deniaud 

Bullion has always seized the chance to work with young choreographers, and has interpreted the ballets of colleagues Samuel Murez and Nicolas Paul with whom he hopes to continue working. But he has also created works by Edouard Lock, Preljocaj, Roland Petit and Mats Ek as well as John Neumeier at the Paris Opera.

"Creations interest me’, he said, "It was fascinating to interpret Paul’s, Repliques earlier this year, and should Mats Ek bring a new work to the Opera, I’ll be first in line!"

"But next season I hope very much to be able to dance Roland Petit’s, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, as well as Le Loup. It would also be wonderful to dance another work of Grigorovitch. I saw Ivan Vassiliev in Spartacus recently, and it was amazing."

Next season also sees both Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake, two more of Rudolph Nureyev’s great classical works programmed. Stéphane Bullion, a most attractive young man with tall, romantic good looks seems custom made for the role of Nureyev’s prince, while being also young and boyish enough to become the Romeo that Shakespeare dreamed of.

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. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for and last wrote Ten Years After, Robbins Still Going Strong in Paris


Related Culturekiosque Dance Archives

Please click here for Patricia Boccadoro's archive of interviews with international choreographers and dance stars.

Please click here for Patricia Boccadoro's archive of dance reviews of performances by troupes and companies from all over the world.

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