Marie-Agnès Gillot bids farewell to the stage

A photographic record of an Étoile’s career — By Aliénor de Foucaud

An Étoile dancer since her 2004 nomination during Carolyn Carlson's ballet Signes, Marie-Agnès Gillot is a multi-faceted artist. A teacher who, at a very early age, chose the path of education in parallel with her dance career at the Opera Ballet. A muse and source of inspiration, but also a committed woman who defends a host of causes. A personality of the cultural world too, who is already preparing a series of fine projects after leaving the stages of the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille. As she prepares to bid farewell as Eurydice in Pina Bausch's ballet, she discusses emblematic moments of her life and offers us a brief personal profile.

Pina Bausch – Eurydice
Pina Bausch – Eurydice 3 images

I’d run into Pina Bausch quite a few times in the cafeteria at Garnier before I met her in the studio. And then she had me audition for the role of Eurydice….

When you become involved in one of her works, Pina’s uniqueness resides in the singularity of the movement. Initially, it is pleasing to do. But then it becomes far more difficult to execute perfectly. The smallest detail makes the difference. You think you have mastered the movement when in fact you’re a long way from having grasped it. Its fluidity makes us believe we can get there. But Pina’s choreography is a totality and that’s what is so hard. I was the first to be chosen to perform the role in Paris, I perhaps will be the last.   

Signes - Carlson : the first Etoile dancer to be promoted while performing a contemporary ballet: 2004

© Michel Lidvac / OnP
“I realise that certain of my spiritual fathers have become masters and then ghosts."

I created this ballet with Carolyn Carlson in 1997. Obviously, it is highly emblematic of my career—as is that particular choreographer, artist and woman. I continue to work with her on the solo My Dialogue with Rothko. It’s always a great pleasure to rediscover those links with the visual arts that are omnipresent in her work. (The ballet Signes was choreographed in sets by Olivier Debré). She passed on the last solo that she created for herself, it’s very symbolic.

I would say there’s a bloodline between those women and me. Pina and Carolyn. What they passed on, their presence, their kindness—all that has been very important to me throughout my career as well.

Balanchine – Robbins – Petit - Forsythe- Ek – Mc Gregor…

Balanchine – Robbins – Petit - Forsythe- Ek – Mc Gregor…
Balanchine – Robbins – Petit - Forsythe- Ek – Mc Gregor… 9 images

Forsythe, Ek, McGregor… those choreographers are the men of my life. I also need to mention Roland Petit, Robbins, Balanchine and so many others. I am lucky to have known them when they were alive (except Balanchine of course) and to have had the chance to work with them. Today, they’re the great classics, their names have become legendary. For me, more than anything else, they were inspiring men, synonymous with encounters and exchanges. In the end, I realise that my fathers have become masters and then ghosts. Time passes so quickly!      

La transmission, la pédagogie
La transmission, la pédagogie 3 images

I passed my dance teacher’s diploma at the age of 18. For me, teaching wasn’t something that was a given just because I’m an Etoile dancer (an Etoile dancer receives the diploma without passing the exam). It was something I wanted as of an early age: to teach and to pass on what I knew. I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to work alongside the great masters. I am happy today to be able in turn to help young people and pass on what I know. Teaching is not some favour bestowed on me, I have always liked it—to share the secrets I have discovered, to show the way. I hope to be able to continue to accompany and guide people. To point them in the right direction. As such, I have created a School with a sponsor in Italy, close to Turin, and I hope to be able to open an annexe in Paris.

A multi-faceted artist: her collaborative works, her advertising campaigns

Avec l'acteur Roschdy Zem  dans le clip, La Boxeuse amoureuse, d'Arthur H
Avec l'acteur Roschdy Zem dans le clip, La Boxeuse amoureuse, d'Arthur H © DR

The last advertising campaign I did for Estée Lauder was a nice collaborative effort. The idea was simple: “A day with Marie-Agnès”. Very few things were staged, I wanted it to be filmed in places familiar to me—that resembled me. I also designed and created my first clothing collection last year for Petit Bateau with my son. It was a wonderful project. Recently, I met the singer Arthur H. I liked him right away. He called me a week before he was due to start filming his video clip for La Boxeuse amoureuse. I listened to his composition and I said yes. Throughout my life, geniuses and music have propelled me forward on.

An activist

Une femme engagée
Une femme engagée 3 images

I became involved with children’s causes early on, then AIDS, Cancer, and women’s issues… As a public figure, I am fortunate that I was approached to defend the causes that are dear to me. I also fight for relatives and friends affected by such diseases. The first cause I actively got involved in is still very important to me, it’s called “The Chain of Hope”. It’s all about straightforward gestures, surgeons who operate on children…

“Throughout my life, geniuses and music have propelled me forward.”

An icon from the world of culture

Marie-Agnès Gillot est nommée Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur par Audrey Azoulay,  mars 2017
Marie-Agnès Gillot est nommée Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur par Audrey Azoulay, mars 2017 © DR

We have a very rich cultural offering in France, particularly in Paris. However, I think there’s still not enough cross-fertilisation between genres and ethnicities. Paris as a city is a melting pot but culture is still not representative enough of that diversity. When Dimitri Chamblas and I presented a "carte blanche" performance at Saló (a pop-up club dedicated to alternative cultures), I had the opportunity to meet and work with some unknown dancers who were nevertheless hugely talented. There is still a great deal to do to bring us all together. Today, we are drifting apart. I hope to give more cohesion and meaning to all of that.

© Julien Benhamou

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