Paris Opera Ballet Loses Its Second Head in Six Years

Six years ago Benjamin Millepied surprised many in the ballet world by resigning as director of dance at the august Paris Opera Ballet, just over a year into the role.

Now, in another surprising move — and with unusually short notice — Aurélie Dupont, his successor, has also resigned. On Thursday, Dupont said in a news release that she would be leaving the 353-year-old company on July 31. She “wishes to devote herself to personal projects,” the release said. Those projects included a book and documentary film. She also wanted to spend more time with her family, it said.

“I am leaving this magnificent institution with a feeling of accomplishment,” Dupont said in the release. “My greatest pride is having contributed to the emergence of talented artists, dancers and choreographers,” she added.

The Paris Opera will set up a selection committee to choose her successor, the release said.

When Dupont was named the head of Paris Opera Ballet, in February 2016, she had only recently retired as an étoile, or star dancer, at the company. She was meant to bring stability to the institution after Millepied had spent a year struggling to modernize it, including trying to make its ranks more diverse.

Dupont’s artistic vision was very different than Millepied’s. She leaned toward commissions from choreographers of contemporary dance rather than those focused on classical technique; and she did not try to retain an association with the choreographer William Forsythe that Millepied had initiated.

Yet her time in charge was also turbulent. In April 2018, the company was plunged into crisis when the results of an anonymous questionnaire about dancers’ views on the company were leaked to the French media.

In that 179-page document, 77 percent of dancers who responded to the survey said they had experienced or witnessed verbal harassment, while 26 percent said they had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment. Almost 90 percent answered no to the question, “Do you feel you benefit from high quality management?” The document featured several cutting anonymous comments seemingly aimed at Dupont, including: “The current director seems to have no management competence, and no desire to acquire any.”

There was another storm in 2019 when the Paris Opera Ballet announced that Sergei Polunin would perform as a guest in “Swan Lake,” despite a string of homophobic social media comments and posts trumpeting his then love of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Within days, Dupont canceled his appearance.

Dupont also had to cope with the coronavirus pandemic shutting the ballet for long stretches and her dancers going on strike to protest planned changes to their pensions. In September 2020, she got a new boss when Alexander Neef became the Paris Opera’s director general.

Some in the French press on Thursday praised her time at the institution. Ariane Bavelier, writing in Le Figaro, said Dupont was leaving the company “with her head high.” The company “was serene again,” Bavelier added, saying its program struck a decent balance between classic and contemporary works.

Philippe Noisette, a dance journalist for Paris Match and Les Echos, said in a telephone interview that “everybody was surprised” by Dupont’s departure, especially at such short notice.

Dupont had success artistically, Noisette said, especially in nurturing young stars. Some of the company’s loyal audience blamed her for not promoting François Alu, a fan favorite, to étoile. This April there were shouts of “Aurélie, resign!” after Alu performed in “La Bayadère,” Noisette said, but Alu achieved the rank in the next performance.

Neef, wishing her success in her next move, said in the news release that Dupont would always be “one of the most eminent figures of the Paris Opera” and that he would assist in the search for her successor.

Roslyn Sulcas contributed reporting

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