Like everybody else, François Alu, first dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet, started small, but he had to wait until the revelation, the “tilt” in the barthesian sense of the word, the “that’s it!”.
I’m nine years old, my grandmother shows me a documentary about Patrick Dupond, star dancer, director of the Paris Opera, a huge star. I see this guy doing incredible tricks in the air, things I’ve never seen, or rather in different contexts, the martial arts movies I watch regularly. He gives the impression of constantly travelling, of having a crazy life, there is also this thing about the extreme effort rewarded, here again, I think of Bruce Lee and the way he trained infinitely, his total abnegation towards his goal: the perfect move.
I ask my mother – with whom I am learning modern jazz – what I need to do to become Patrick Dupond. She answers: classical dance.
I didn’t understand at all, it was so far from what I saw on the screen. She then explained to me the principle of the basics and their learning, so I joined the dance school of the Opera, while remaining supervised and coached by my mother. I also watched a lot of videos.
Every week-end, back home, I was studying the videos of these dancers from all over the world whom I saw doing amazing things. When I joined the company, I tended to do rather unorthodox things, since then passed into current practice with the new generation, who grew up with the same references and sources. However, there are some exceptional documents, videos from a time when the word “private” had little more meaning, that older dancers lent me. These are rare performances, dancers invited to the Opera that were filmed in a confidential way, and that I was able to study.
At 11, 12 years old, the rule is to forget everything you’ve learned, to welcome the School’s teaching. For me, who had to leave my parents, erasing what they had taught me was too much. I kept all this preciously, it was very solid and very concrete. At school, we started with things so simple that I was deeply bored, by the middle of the year, I remember I was doing coupés jetés in circles. (cf. Swan’s Lake exerpt posted on François Alu’s Instagram account, Editor’s note). The professor was totally against it. But by talking about it with the other students, who were all dying to try it, we finally got permission, two afternoons a week. It was a wonderful moment, that of experimentation, emulation mattered a lot, which is not necessarily common in French academism, more attached to the conservation of practices: first, make it “clean” and then, enrich, invent, before making five or ten. I prefer to try to do ten of them any way I can, and take the sense of turning, and then, little by little, streamline and refine. The great technicians didn’t start working for hours on a single spin, they started and there they went, even if it meant changing things along the way, anything can be improved.
When I have a show in the evening, and we go out for a drink afterwards, I’ll get up around 8:00. An hour to wake up, have breakfast, read a little. From 9 to 10:30 am, I work on my personal projects, the shows I co-produce with 3e étage*, the association to which I belong.
I leave for the Opera around 10:30 am, dance class – if everything goes well – from 11 am to noon, then rehearsal until 4 pm, half an hour break, from 4:30 pm to 7 pm, sometimes another rehearsal. The class can also stop at 4pm, with a break until 5:30pm, then make-up, warm-up, and finally, show, from 7pm to 10pm-11pm, these are the most difficult days. On rest days, when it ends at 1:00 pm, 1:30 pm, we go to the physiotherapist’s, do stretching, take care of the machine.
Yesterday, around 10:30pm-11pm, I posted a video of Von Rothbart, my character in Swan Lake, the reactions were very good (2658 likes, 248 comments, Editor’s note), including from dancers seen in galas, who are for me absolute references. I was so happy that an adrenaline rush overwhelmed me. I jumped in all directions, alone, at home, hysterical as I am after a show, I chatted, we took news of each other, it kept going up, up, a wave of well-being much too huge. I kept repeating myself: it’s crazy, I have a wonderful life, what luck! I wanted to have a party at my house right away, have everyone, just to say: guys, it’s cool, let’s have fun, let’s enjoy life, we have to do a show together on this and that subject, we’ll invite so and so. This state, infinitely fertile in ideas, this galactic euphoria took me on its wing, and goodbye sleep, it was raining outside, it was a sad ending. I couldn’t calm down, I read, read, read, read, and read again, my eyes were heavy, I went to bed, did breathing exercises, around 2:00 am, I was starting to imagine the difficulty I would have getting up at 8:00 am.
This morning I was still driven by the euphoria of the previous day. But everything is in balance, and descents follow my great euphoric peaks.
When nothing happens at all, or when I get hurt, the descent is slow and gradual, unlike that induced by synthetic drugs (which he doesn’t do, editor’s note). My life is punctuated by ups and downs, days when I am lost, moments of extreme joy or sadness, which I can inject, transcribe into characters. These countless moments of anger, when I was younger, I use them, sometimes, when a character requires it. I remember that after seeing an episode of Stranger Things*, I cried, I was tired, I filmed myself, for the day I will look for this emotion, it will be stored, available, ready to use.
PIERRE RIVIÈRE WHO SAW YOU DANCE ROTHBART, TELLS ME THAT THE MINUTES WHEN YOU APPEARED OVERSHADOWS THE REST OF THE SHOW
That’s very kind, I’m lucky the audience is so warm.
It’s dark, and I love playing the bad guys, but he doesn’t dance much, while the role of the prince is dense and very demanding, but dramaturgically less complex than Von Rothbart’s. I danced it once, and I’d like to do it again; maybe soon, it’s part of my projects.
LOOKING AT YOUR FEET, ONE THINKS ABOUT HULK OR DIABLO
The character who has inspired me since I was a child, long before he appeared in the cinema as Hugh Jackman, is Wolverine, with his adamantium plated skeleton, all that… well, I’m alu-minium, it’s less powerful. His big claws that came out, for a yes or no, this eternal anger, and this power of self-regeneration, even wounded to death… so practical!
In Martin Eden, by Jack London, there is this scene in which Martin feels sorry for himself, he thinks of Cheese Head, who beat him up every day for eleven years, here is his description of one of their battles: « There was nothing else in the world but that face, and he would never know rest, blessed rest, until he had beaten that face into a pulp with his bleeding knuckles, or until the bleeding knuckles that somehow belonged to that face had beaten him into a pulp. »
Six or seven pages of fighting, he broke his arm, but continued to cling to his goal, that of slaughtering Cheese Head. Then, one day, on his kneeling enemy, Martin says, « D’ye want any more? Say, d’ye want any more? » And, boom, he faints.
One day I received a message from Pierre Rivière, who explained that he admired my work as a dancer and wanted to offer me a pair of Timothée Paris shoes, his young brand. I was working on a choreography for the release of a book by photographer Julien Benhamou. I was looking for shoes. Dancing barefoot or in slippers is fine, but to be all-terrain, it’s not perfect. I am sensitive to the harmony of things, Pierre’s message came at the right time. I asked him if, instead of a pair of shoes, he could offer me two, one for a boy, the other for a girl.
Meeting with Pierre and Masa, the founders of Timothée, next to the Opera House. Having only talked to them on the phone, I assume they’re necessarily my age, so enthusiastic are they; to me, they’re two very talented young guys. In the café, I look around without being able to find them, then a gentleman waves to me: Hello François, how are you?
It was Pierre. To launch Timothée Paris with Masa – the designer, who came straight from Berluti – he left his job, the brand was born from this encounter of two fierce wills, I know they will smash everything. They are struggling to bring a little innovation and courage to a very difficult context – that of made in France shoes – and they are giving everything they have to achieve it. We are on exactly the same wavelength. We know that their choice to manufacture in France, rather than in Bangladesh, Burma, Vietnam, the Chinese Prato or China, implies possessing what few entrepreneurs have: a political, ecological, economic and social conscience, in short, intelligence and loyalty. I support them 2000 %.
For dissentiments, my piece in the form of a pas de deux recounting the decomposition of a couple, Timothée Paris has produced two pairs of soft leather shoes, very technical and very elegant, with which we danced, jumped, made demi pointes; unique models, but so perfect that Masa, I believe, has in the works a model that will resemble them.
LIVING EVERYDAY AMONG ALL THESE BEAUTIFUL BODIES, TO WHICH ARE YOU ATTRACTED ?
I must admit that my girlfriends were rather… dancers. Our brains are being brainwashed by all these years of dance school. In front of the mirror, I sometimes think to myself: ah, that’s good, my leg line is correct, in this particular position, and other times, it will be awful, abominable. I prefer to avoid looking at myself, I film myself, from far enough away, to grasp technical problems, always in motion.
Our critical sense is very developed, moreover, I love imitating people, I inherited it from my parents who have a great sense of mimicry. In a gestural, so many things appear, I instantly and unintentionally perceive the defects, which fascinates me as much as it horrifies me.
FRANÇOIS ALU STARTS FLUTTERING BEFORE ME
People who hardly put their heels on the ground when they walk, they go into demi pointe immediately because their tendon is too short, it is very unsightly, inconsistent, slender, the heel rises before the weight of the body has even passed to its plumb.
DANCERS DON’T DO THAT
Yes, yes, of course. Some people have this yodeling, jumping step, I prefer when walking is anchored in the ground, not that it is necessary to bend the knees like a gorilla, but a balance between the two is desirable. And those who talk with their mouths on their sides like the sole, or who, like me, keep their eyebrows high, I just want to say to myself: stop being surprised all the time, it’s so annoying (laughs). These are little things I try not to pay too much attention to, but we are trained to be hyper attentive to the plastic details, to control the position of each member, up to the last phalanx of the little finger, details that remain invisible to the audience, but whose sum makes the ballet a success or a failure.
Of course, the perfect envelope that we present is sometimes lined with a disappointing interior, and I am my first victim, I can’t look like a completely flaccid bag, just a matter of professionalism; and I read and cultivate myself, not to be a pretty, abominably hollow shell. However, it must be possible to be both.
We are entitled to a sabbatical year, as well as a year of unpaid leave. I would love to play a sporty character, I’m not focused on the roles of superheroes, super villains is nice too. Or, on the other hand, an extremely calm character, everything interests me, starting with the experience of the camera, just that.
*The dressing rooms on the 3rd floor of Palais Garnier are traditionally reserved for the dancers of the Corps de Ballet. As we climb up the company’s ladder, we go down the stairs. In 2004, the young dancer-choreographer Samuel Murez brought together several of his colleagues to form an independent group whose name was a given. This name – “3rd floor” – expresses their attachment to the tradition of excellence of a prestigious House founded by Louis XIV, but also their ambition to renew this tradition, bringing to it the energy and sensitivity of their generation.
**TV series produced by Netflix.