PARIS — It was an evening of motion and emotion at the Paris Opera on Tuesday, where its annual fundraiser gala paid homage to star dancer and former director of dance Patrick Dupond, who passed away in 2021.
Stars including Whitney Peak, Vanessa Paradis, Clara Luciani, Alma Jodorowsky and Woodkid attended the glittering event, which was sponsored by Rolex and Chanel. Dupond, who joined the Paris ballet corps at 16 and rose to director in 1990, loomed large over the evening’s program.
Paris Opera director Alexander Neef lauded a “unique artist, a solar personality whose light remains in a lasting way in our memories.” Meanwhile, Paris Opera dance director José Martinez described him as “a comet, a meteor” that inspired generations of dancers.
The event kicked off with a film that highlighted Dupond’s talent but also his wit, evident in the way he quipped that his name was “Dupond — with a D, like dance.”
Inspired by the 1990 season, when Dupond had invited former principal dancers to close the traditional opening procession of the gala, this edition featured more than 40 veteran headliners including Marie-Agnès Gillot, Marie-Claude Pietragalla and Claude Bessy, who danced with Gene Kelly and later led the Paris Opera’s ballet school from 1972 to 2004.
The performances included Maurice Béjart’s “Song of a Wayfarer,” which Dupond had danced with Rudolf Nureyev and here interpreted by Germain Louvet and Hugo Marchand. The final piece was a synthesis of classical technique dear to Dupond’s heart that had both professionals and enthusiasts enthralled.
“I wanted to dance with [the corps],” said Algerian-French actress Lyna Khoudri, adding it was the first time she had been to a ballet since filming “Houria,” a movie directed by Mounia Meddour coming out on March 15 in France. It tells the story of a gifted ballet dancer left traumatized after an attack who is inspired to help the women she meets during her recovery to overcome life struggles through dance.
During the preparation for the titular role, Khoudri received precious advice from Pietragalla and spent eight months to achieve pointe work. So seeing this display of passion, technique and years of dedication left her with childlike wonder, she said.
During an intermission, designer Pierre Hardy confided he’d been moved to tears by the procession. For Blanca Li, who will unveil a choreographed take on “Dido and Aeneas” at the Royal Opera of Versailles in March, the moving display epitomized dance as “an entire life” showing that “at all stages, the dancer is there, she never leaves the stage.”
Having previously danced herself, though “not nearly as good” as the evening’s stars, Peak particularly admired the duets and how the dancing pairs flew their lifts. “You have to trust [your partner] so much, otherwise you’re going to fall, you’re going to get dropped,” she said.
The evening was a conclusion of sorts for the actress, who spent an enjoyable month in Paris centered around her new role as the face of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle fragrance. “I don’t think it’s hit me how crazy it is, because everybody keeps telling me it’s going to be everywhere. But in my head, it doesn’t feel like that,” she admitted.
But before heading to Atlanta to begin a new film project, the “Gossip Girl” star joined the flow of guests heading into the Paris Opera house’s gilded foyer for a dinner designed by Sven Chartier, Tatiana Levha, Nadia Sammut and chocolatier Jade Génin.
A cornerstone on the Paris social calendar, the annual event is organized by the Paris Opera’s in-house fundraising arm Arop, with all proceeds from private and corporate donors benefiting the activities of the institution. This edition dedicated to Dupond was no exception, drawing a 750-strong audience.
Among them were Dupond’s mother Nicole Charles; his dance partner Leïla Da Rocha, with whom he cofounded the White Eagle Dance troupe; French actress Agathe Rousselle, and designer Vanessa Seward, who will be holding the first solo exhibition of her paintings in April at the former Joyce Gallery space under the Palais Royal arcades.