Noëlla Pontois is one of the most unassuming prima ballerinas in the history of dance. Although she shied away from stardom, glitz and glamour during her ballet career, Pontois has still left her mark on her time, without artifice or pretence. Her tenacity, hard work, determination and professionalism, her lack of affectation, and above all the purity of her style made her a favourite partner of ballet’s great male stars, from Nureyev and Franchetti to Legris and Dupond. Today, it seems entirely fitting to pay tribute to her immense contributions through an exhibition. As a centre for art and dance, Éléphant Paname is the natural venue for this event.
“For anyone lucky enough to have seen her perform, she was the very spirit of dance. Fluid, musical, airy and delicate, her work embodies that very rare combination: exactitude and classical perfection raised to the heights of pure emotion.” Xavier Boutrelle, in his review of (Noëlla Pontois. L’étoile du Palais Garnier by Benjamin Rossé). This exhibition reconstitutes the genuine odyssey of this unique performer, through photographs, videos, costumes and even a mock-up of Pontois’ dressing room at the Palais Garnier.
As a girl of very modest origins (her parents worked as superintendents at a university dormitory in Paris), Noëlla Pontois entered the world of dance almost by miracle. It was a physician her parents consulted because their daughter was too thin who had suggested that she be enrolled at the Paris Opera’s ballet school, because it was the only place one could study free of charge. At the age of nine, Pontois passed the audition with flying colours and her future was laid out before her, a genuine fairy-tale transformation! However, in her first years of study she could scarcely imagine that one day she would be a prima ballerina. But she could already sense that dance was her destiny and her path. Her physical talents grew immensely as she began to understand her body, coming to realise which movements worked with a certain ease and which ones were more challenging. She had already revealed the pedagogical predisposition that would serve her, and her disciples, so well in later years.
At seventeen, she joined the corps de ballet at the Paris Opera having already begun to pose for painters, and soon thereafter for advertising campaigns. But most of all, she danced, and with many of the leading lights in the field. Rudolf Nureyev chose her as his partner and they danced together for more than fifteen years, revisiting the entire repertoire, on the world’s greatest stages. Next, she would work with Baryshnikov, guided by the most esteemed choreographers of the day. She discovered Japan, where she became a bride, making the country her second home. Today, her daughter Miteki Kudo has also become a prominent ballerina and even her granddaughter has begun to grace the boards.