The resignation of Aurelie Dupont, ballet director at the Paris Opera for the past six years, was a surprise, but the former prima ballerina insists there was no controversy behind it.

The 49-year-old replaced Benjamin Millepied in 2016 and succeeded in pulling in audiences and opening the famed French company to young choreographers.

But there was also controversy, with a leaked internal survey in 2018 revealing widespread upset about her leadership style and the management of the fabled institution more broadly.

Q: Why this surprise resignation?

A: It's not a sudden decision. I've worked at the Paris Opera for 40 years. I'm very proud to leave the company in great shape, with a programme set until July 2025. (Six years) is more than I spent at the Dance School as a "petit rat" (a nickname given to students). I had always told my team that I would leave at 50. There is also a desire to live differently.

Q: So nothing to do with rumours that you opposed the promotion of Francois Alu (the company's highest-profile dancer) to principal dancer?

A: This is not reality. I have a very good relationship with Francois. I have always been in favour of his appointment, but it is up to the general manager of the Opera.

Q: Do you think you have been unfairly criticised for your leadership style?

A: I ran the company with all my heart. I did the best I could, I questioned myself many times. I followed my artistic vision. That the media say things that are sometimes false, unfortunately I cannot escape it.

RTL

Dupont says she introduced regular meetings following criticism of management in 2018 / © AFP

Over the six years, there have been many, many developments. I set up very regular meetings with the dancers. I feel I really introduced new things in terms of communication.

Q: What challenges were you not expecting?

A: I always felt legitimate because as an ex-star, when I programme classical ballets, I take a lot of pleasure from passing on the roles (to a new generation).

But I realised there were pressures that I didn't worry about when I was a prima ballerina: the occupancy rate, sales... We were 98 percent full even after the pandemic. We went up to an average of 23 or 24 million ticket sales under my direction, against 17 million before.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: To have succeeded in highlighting everyone's talent. There are dancers who are made to be stars, who excel in classical dance, others in contemporary. I'm quite proud of having taught them to highlight their qualities and not their faults.

During the pandemic, we did everything to keep them motivated, and psychologically supported. This is an extremely curious generation and open to the world. They inspired me, I wanted to make them independent by inviting choreographers who came from everywhere.

Q: What can you say about your projects?

A: I have a book project where I talk about my journey. I will lecture on resilience. I want to spend more time with my two boys aged 14 and 11. (And) a childhood dream: I'm going to take on the artistic direction of a musical.