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Encounters

Last rise of the curtain

Laëtitia Pujol says farewell to the stage — By Inès Piovesan

Promoted in 2002 in Don Quichotte, Laëtitia Pujol will bid farewell to the stage on September 23 in Emeralds. To mark this special evening, the Étoile dancer will also be performing the final pas-de-deux from Sylvia with Manuel Legris. It will also be an evening which brings together some of the artists who have proved crucial during her career. It is just another way to tell a story—something that Laëtitia has always liked to do, as the many images that punctuate her journey reveal. 

The memory of my nomination is still an incredible moment for me. I was supposed to dance the role of Kitri with Manuel Legris but at the last minute, Brigitte Lefèvre asked me to replace an injured dancer. At that point, I hadn’t even started rehearsing the pas-de-deux. So, we had two days with Benjamin Pech to work on it but this was on May 1st: the only day that the Opera is closed! We rehearsed using the means available. The theatre’s fire safety officers allowed us into the Opéra Bastille and we found ourselves there alone having to substitute a bath towel for a shawl for the second act…
The day of the performance, Benjamin went through the steps with me but my main concern was to make it all the way to the end of the ballet. Spurred on by the excitement of the moment, if not a little recklessness, I attempted—and successfully completed—the triple fouettés in the final pas de deux! I wasn’t thinking of the nomination at all so when I saw director Hugues Gall and Brigitte Lefèvre walk on stage, I was completely taken aback and I cried as much out of joy as from emotion.

Earning the title of Étoile is the reward for a great deal of work and I’m happy to have shared it with Benjamin. We progressed together and often danced together up until his last performance in Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc, even though his hip was making him suffer enormously. He will always be my “Wolf” in Roland Petit’s “Le Loup”—another ballet which I had the opportunity to work with him.

Laëtitia Pujol et Benjamin Pech dans Le Loup
Laëtitia Pujol et Benjamin Pech dans Le Loup © Julien Benhamou / OnP

As with Le Loup, and other narrative ballets, the important thing for me was to be able to embody the characters and give them life through their stories. If technique is essential, one needs to know how to transcend it to stir the audience’s imagination.
For that reason, Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet will remain one of the greatest memories of my career. It was an extremely powerful moment which I had the opportunity to share with several partners, however I know that the series of performances I danced with Mathieu Ganio will always remain something very special for me.

Laëtitia Pujol et Mathieu Ganio dans Roméo et Juliette
Laëtitia Pujol et Mathieu Ganio dans Roméo et Juliette © Julien Benhamou / OnP

Mathieu is more than just a partner, he’s a friend. He counts among those rare encounters of a lifetime. We understand each other without even needing to speak. Beyond the purely “technical” and physical aspect, which makes the lifts and the interactions easy, we’re very close artistically, we share the same sensitivity. We have often used humour to get us through those difficult moments. We both like to tell stories and humour has always been part of our work. We have also danced several ballets like Emeralds which we will be dancing for my farewell performance. Symbolically, that ballet has a particular importance for me: I was pregnant with my son and then my daughter in Emeralds when we were already dancing it together.
For my final evening, I was absolutely determined to perform the pas-de-deux from Sylvia with Manuel Legris. In itself, the ballet brings together three leading figures in my career.

Laëtitia Pujol et Manuel Legris dans Sylvia
Laëtitia Pujol et Manuel Legris dans Sylvia © Ursula Kaufmann / OnP

This ballet, which John Neumeier created for Manuel Legris and Monique Loudières, represents so much to me. John has been a presence throughout my entire career: from the moment he awarded me the Prix de Lausanne—which allowed me to enter the Paris Opera Ballet School—up until this final, farewell evening. It was an honour and a privilege to participate in the creation of Song of the Earth, to dance to Mahler’s Third Symphony, The Lady of the Camellias… He has often invited me to Hamburg. He’s a choreographer who moves me with his spirituality and the sense he gives to things.
Manu is something of a “little father,” a guide, and a partner to me. I owe him a great deal. He taught me a lot and I was able to progress alongside him. He’s a very generous person and I truly have a great deal of admiration for him. It has always been an honour and privilege to share the stage with him.
When I think of Monique Loudières when I’m in my dressing room—the same dressing room that used to be hers—I realise how much she inspired me. I owe her a great deal too. I learnt so much just from watching her. She is an extraordinary dancer, a huge source of inspiration. As I am still very close to her, I am glad to pass on to the younger generation all the treasures she taught me.

Laëtitia Pujol et Jérémie Bélingard dans Wuthering Heights
Laëtitia Pujol et Jérémie Bélingard dans Wuthering Heights © Icare / OnP

Obviously, Nicolas Le Riche and Jérémie Bélingard are two partners who have held an important place in my career. Jérémie was there from the beginning: we danced La Fille mal gardée together at the Paris Opera Ballet School. I was his partner on the night he was made an Étoile dancer after Don Quichotte. I danced in one of his first creations in Japan… He’s a great artist and I have many fond memories of him. The finest still has to be Kader Belarbi’s Wuthering Heights. That ballet took us through some very different states. I still have fond memories of it as this photo well reflects.
As for Nicolas Le Riche, among the numerous ballets I’ve had the opportunity to dance with him, our Giselle will always remain a very powerful memory.

Laëtitia Pujol et Nicolas Le Riche dans Giselle
Laëtitia Pujol et Nicolas Le Riche dans Giselle © Icare / OnP

Of all the stories I have enjoyed recounting, La Petite Danseuse de Degas by Patrice Bart remains one that left a great impression on me. That fascinating, odd, yet disturbing character will have been one of the most important roles of my career and I thank Patrice for that gift. As in any creative process, there were initially a lot of exchanges over this saga of an era… Patrice had faith in me and I was able to propose my vision of the character and infuse it with life.

Laëtitia Pujol et Wilfried Romoli dans La Petite Danseuse de Degas
Laëtitia Pujol et Wilfried Romoli dans La Petite Danseuse de Degas © Icare / OnP

I also really enjoyed dancing the more abstract, neoclassical, contemporary ballets. What a pleasure to have played the man-eating Praying Mantis with her highly distinctive gestures in Robbins’ The Cage. That was the moment when I realised there was a complementarity between the classical and contemporary languages and that both fed on and strengthened each other. From this standpoint, my encounter with Mats Ek was truly consequential. He allowed me to learn about myself, to learn how to move differently. Just as Jiří Kylián with his poetry or Agnes de Mille with her cinematographic vision of dance were able to do.

The Cage
The Cage © Icare / OnP

When the time finally comes to bid farewell, I’ll feel fulfilled. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to dance all the roles that I’ve been given. I’m happy to pass on the torch to a new generation. Each dancer has different qualities and each can find his or her place. One of the hardest things is going to be leaving certain people: the dancers, and the exchanges you can have within the company. I will always be available and happy to have the opportunity to pass on what I have learnt. While leaving the Opera, I know the links I have forged with this institution and all those who work here will remain forever.

La Maison de Bernarda
La Maison de Bernarda © Agathe Poupeney / OnP
Fall River Legend
Fall River Legend © Ann Ray / OnP

Interview by Inès Piovesan

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