Marie-Agnes Gillot, 42, a French ballet legend who overcame double scoliosis to become one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation, took her last bow at the Paris Opera Ballet on Saturday night. In addition to her physical disability, which can sometimes give her a hump when her back is swollen, Gillot also had to overcome critics who complained that she was too tall and broad-shouldered to be a principal dancer. In 2004, when Gillot finally was named prima ballerina at the Paris Opera Ballet at age 28 — legendary choreographer Maurice Bejart publicly questioned why the company had waited so long to promote “the best [dancer] they have.” Gillot’s promotion was exceptional in another way — it marked the first time a ballerina for the company had ever been named principal dancer following a performance of modern ballet.
“Nobody gave me a free pass,” Gillot told AFP. “I think we have a hard time managing exceptional people in France who have a lot of energy, who have strong minds, who have abnormal abilities. And not just in ballet.”
As a child, Gillot hid her condition from her teachers after leaving home at 9 to train at an elite ballet school in Paris. At age 18, after seeing other more classical-looking dancers promoted ahead of her, she “ran away to New York” where she first began receiving roles deserving of her talent. The legendary dancer is also vocal critic of how young dancers are trained, criticizing a system that she says punishes creativity and “[breaks] 10,000 children” for the sake of developing “one little prodigy.” Today, Gillot remains the only French woman choreographer to have had her work staged at the Paris Opera.
“I’ve been described with adjectives like athletic, tall, atypical, rebel, and punk since I was very little. But I don’t see it!” said Gillot. “I see myself as a good soldier with a lot of discipline who has embraced all types of dance and never given classical or contemporary priority.”
Watch video of Gillot in action below.
VIDEO: For Marie-Agnès Gillot, the journey to becoming one of the Opera National de Paris's star dancers was anything but smooth. Diagnosed with double scoliosis as a child, she rose through the ranks and is now she is preparing to take her final curtsy pic.twitter.com/bmQUfuV0XR
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 30, 2018
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