Already ! We pinch ourselves while looking at our chrono to check that we are not dreaming. Unfortunately no. Barely have we had time to savor each of his appearances that it is over. While we want more, the curtain comes down on Stéphane Bullion. At 42, the official retirement age for dancers at the Paris Opera, the star leaves the poster. On Saturday June 4, he bids farewell in the program devoted to choreographer Mats Ek, with whom he radiates, in his restrained but catchy way, the pas de deux Another Place.

Too young to retire? “The rule has been clear from the start,” he said simply. We sometimes forget it, because it goes so fast, but it is there. I leave room. “Thursday, June 2, in his dressing room at the Palais Garnier, still busy, even if he started sorting his things a year ago, Stéphane Bullion seems miraculously serene. He casts a circular gaze over his second home, since his star nomination in 2010. An orchid sits atop a closet; photos of her two children cover the mirror. “I only have a few more boxes to fill. It’s not the places that I’m going to miss the most, it’s the people in the company, the studio work,” he says.

Exceptional trajectory

When he flies over his exceptional trajectory, Stéphane Bullion declares himself, all smiles, “very lucky”. Childhood in the countryside, near Givors (Rhône), not far from Lyon. His father is a marble worker; his mother, a psychologist. He has two brothers. Nothing to report in particular since his entry, at the age of 14, at the school of the Opera. “Apart from the Sunday afternoon blues, on the train back, between Lyon and Paris,” he slips. The one who wondered, as a teenager, if he had “the ability to become a dancer” joined the corps de ballet three years later and fired all styles: classical with La Bayadère and Giselle, contemporary with Angelin Preljocaj or Marco Goecke. No serious injuries apart from “two or three sores”. He barely mentioned his cancer in 2004. While rehearsing the role of Ivan, furious despot of Ivan the Terrible, choreographed in 1975 by Yuri Grigorovich, he learned of his illness. “I should have had surgery within the week and canceled the premiere, he confided in 2012. I decided to dance and then see. »

The appearance is wise and balanced; appetite, quietly devouring. To be distributed in parallel in two shows, one academic and the other contemporary, to take on a first role as a secondary is not a problem for him. “It’s so exhilarating to be on stage!” he exclaims. I took advantage of it. His trifecta? Three stars. With Roland Petit (1924-2011), he illuminates the high-tension masterpieces of Carmen and Le Jeune Homme et la mort. With John Neumeier, he overcomes the technical and theatrical obstacles of La Dame aux Camélias and Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony.

As for Mats Ek, he communicates the thrill of it in La Maison de Bernarda and Appartement. “We’re never done looking, with Mats,” he enthuses. Just yesterday, he was questioning things in Another Place. The duo, with Ludmila Pagliero, will be filmed by Tommy Pascal, for the documentary Tribute to Mats Ek, soon to be seen on Mezzo. “I’m very happy to leave with this piece,” he continues. At the end, I caress the table and lift my hand. For me, this is the stage that I touch one last time. Moreover, it ends without salvation and gives way to the new generation in Boléro, which closes the evening. The transmission and mixing of ages, that is the ballet of the Opera. »

And after ? “No plans,” he says. I will change pace but remain open to everything. First, I want to feel useful. To strengthen his teaching fiber, he already coaches young performers from the troupe. But his schedule is filling up. Tuesday, June 7, he takes off for Tokyo, where he will perform Quasimodo in Notre-Dame de Paris, by Roland Petit, with the Asami Maki Ballet.

And, on the horizon of the start of the school year, he exceptionally accepted the proposal of Aurélie Dupont, director of dance at the Opera, to be on the poster for Mayerling, by Kenneth MacMillan, postponed because of the pandemic. . “I hope it won’t be too much ballet, as they say,” he breathes, smiling. But dancing the darkness and complexity of Rodolphe, which I have always dreamed of, cannot be refused. »