A Chat With the Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet

By Diana Barth Created: November 3, 2009 Last Updated: November 3, 2009
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Brigitte Lefevre, the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet is featured in the new documentary playing at Film Forum, “La Danse.” (Anne Deniau/Paris Opera Ballet )

Brigitte Lefevre, the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet is featured in the new documentary playing at Film Forum, “La Danse.” (Anne Deniau/Paris Opera Ballet )

Last week in these pages, a review of filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, “La Danse,” appeared. The following is an interview with Brigitte Lefevre, artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet, which the film deals with.

Brigitte Lefevre, artistic director of Paris Opera Ballet since 1995, specifically “Director of Dance at Paris National Opera,” came up through the ranks. She joined the Paris Opera Ballet School at the age of eight, and entered the corps de ballet at 16. She has studied with major teachers, danced in important ballets, including those by George Balanchine, Roland Petit, and others, as well as in major classical works.

Different techniques have interested her—she has also choreographed for ballet, theatre, musical comedy, and has acted. She co-founded the Theatre du Silence with Jacques Garnier, which toured twenty-one countries. She has taught classical and contemporary classes at the Paris Opera Ballet, and has received many honors from the French government.

We talked recently by phone, she from her office in Paris.

“After I retired from dancing at age 40, I was approached by those who controlled the Paris Opera Ballet. It felt only right for me to switch sides, so to speak, and take on an administrative role. I feel that dance is important not only for artists but for society in general.”

How she finds new choreographers— “I travel a lot, in France and in Europe in general. But also, many choreographers bring their work to Paris, so I have an opportunity to see new people.

“I don’t seek a particular type of choreographer. Most important, he or she must combine the poetic and pragmatic, must be unique and different. He or she must have a good dance technique and a strong human connection with dancers. I want to see something individualistic. I also use my intuition when making my choices.”

As artistic director, she must plan a repertory three years in advance.

New dancers for the company are selected from the company school. “Every year students take an exam, with a final exam at the end of their studies. A jury of 12, of which I am a member, votes. Depending on the number of points, the top-rated are invited to join the company.”

Mme. Lefevre particularly enjoys supporting company dancers, particularly nurturing young dancers. She says simply, “It is part of my job.” And with older dancers, who have lost some of their confidence, “I must respect their needs but also the needs of the company.”

When I noted that her preference in the repertory seemed to be for contemporary as opposed to classical works, she demurred, saying, “Classical technique is the basis, the foundation, for all our work at Paris Opera Ballet. Through this foundation they go beyond and show that dance is not some dusty old art form but relates to today. I see dance as the art of today.” She added, “I want to see fervor and passion in the work.”

She complimented filmmaker Frederick Wiseman for his discreet interaction with the company. “The dancers soon forgot they were being filmed.

“I know we have a fine reputation worldwide,” she commented. “But we do not rest on our laurels. We work constantly to perfect ourselves—we rehearse and rehearse and rehearse.” (The French word for rehearse is “repetition.”)

The company, which has traveled to France, Japan, and Australia, was last in New York in 1996. Artistic director Brigitte Lefevre announced with enthusiasm, “We plan a tour in 2012 to both New York and Washington.”

“La Danse” opens on Nov.4 at the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, through Nov. 17.

Diana Barth regularly covers theater and film in these pages and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts newsletter. For information: please contact:


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