PC Julien Benhamou

François Alu, interview by Joy Cador

When did you start ballet?  

I started dancing when I was around 5 years old. I was lucky to be born in a sporty/artistry family: my mother is a dance teacher, my brother practices hip-hop and my father also has developed artistic skills along his professional career.  At the age of 8, my grandmother showed me a video featuring Patrick Dupont: then I decided to pursuit ballet as a career. I auditioned for the Ecole de Danse of the Paris Opera and got in.  I studied there 6 years, before entering the “corps de Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris”. I became Premier danseur at the age of 20.

PC Julien Benhamou

An unforgettable stage memory

At the audition to become Premier Danseur, I danced the variation of the Fantôme de l’Opéra. I felt it was a privilege to dance this specific role in the very place for which the ballet was imagined. Competitions always are stressful moments. That year, there were two vacant “Premier Danseur” positions. It was an opportunity to leave the corps de ballet for good, where space for personal creativity, interpretation and improvisation is too narrow I believe.

I have very strong memories of that moment, from the physical and mental preparation of it, for which Samuel Murez was my coach, to the audition in itself. I remember perfectly my performance: my physical involvement of course but also my feelings whilst dancing. That day, it was not only me on stage, dancing that variation: there were also a part of Samuel Murez, a part of its creator Peter Schaufuss, and finally, a part of all the previous dancers that danced this role one day. It was like a waterfall, progressively fed by different minerals along its way. 

A role you dream to perform

Dancing the role of Spartacus is one of my dreams as a dancer: interpreting the role of a man, who embodies a kind of authenticity, struggling for his freedom, ready to fight for his ideals until death…That would be such a promising experience. I see this ballet, which takes place in the Antiquity but strongly evokes some contemporary events, is incredibly powerful. I appreciate characters who both have choreographic power and theatrical one. It is especially what the role of Spartacus holds. As a “half-character” dancer, I perfectly see myself in it.

According to you, what does being a dancer mean?

Many things. For me, a dancer first is an artist, who generates movements and energy but also emotions to make their audience dream and to take them away. Both temporally and spatially. Being a dancer also is choosing not to limit yourself to one specific place, to one specific stage: we can dance in various places, even if working for the Opera implies much in-house work.

A dancer also is a high-level athlete with high expectations towards themselves and a daily discipline.

Socially, being a dancer implies to express confidence. As artists, we must be assertive, on stage and in our day-to-day life. Otherwise, how could we convince a broad audience when we perform?

Then, be a professional dancer means to face challenges caused by a certain degree of precariousness of a profession, which is not financially rewarding in most cases. However, the life of a dancer remains extremely fulfilling, thanks to constant exchanges, travels and human connections.

Lastly, I believe we as dancers must embrace a form of abnormality since we may both fascinate and question other people we meet! For me, there is no cut between my professional and personal life.

What do you see as your responsibility as an artist?

As dancers, our main goal is to make the audience dream, and transform musical vibrations into physical ones.  I do not like the word « responsibility ». In my opinion, being responsible means that one has to be accountable to somebody else, thus giving up part of one’s freedom. A dancer only is responsible to do his utmost for his public, who also has its own responsibility: keeping its mind open and not being quick to criticize. Even as a well-known personality, a dancer is not accountable to anyone. Of course, we can have our personal goals, but I would rather link this to personal values than responsibility. The social and humanitarian actions I chose to do during the first lockdown were the result of my own choice, of my personal ethics.

Do you think that dance is able to change our relationship to the world?

In my opinion, choreographic language may express a wide range of emotions but may not be strong enough to describe our whole relation to the world that surrounds us. The impact of a dancer is smaller than the impact of a football player who benefits from a much larger audience. Dancers may have a potential to trigger change at their own scale, which is both different and smaller.

Will ballet still exist in 500 years?

In 500 years, ballet may have to find new premises: like museums, who knows? I also like the idea of having more dancing performances in public spaces, such as the street.

What is the opposite of dancing?

The opposite of dancing is what some intellectuals, as Orazio Massaro, called “la non-danse” in the 1990’s. In a nutshell, it reduces dance to theories and philosophical conceptions. Only words, a waffle which leads to the disappearance of the movement and thus, to the death of dance.

How do you see your career develop in the future?

I was lucky to receive early some very good advice, to discover the world of production and get a feel for different types of art. What I wish above all is to remain an artist all my life,  either dancing or managing artistic projects.

PC Julien Benhamou

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