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A French toast to ballet

Seven things to know about Paris Opera Ballet to impress your mates


Published: 30 May 2019

Time taken : ~10mins

Seven things to know about Paris Opera Ballet to impress your mates

There's no stopping the tour de force of ballet. Known for elegance, grace and technical mastery, the proponents of the French School boast a historical significance that no other dance company in the world can.

In addition to turning dance into a profession in the late 1600s, Paris Opera Ballet has quietly chassé-d the times with a hefty contemporary repertoire. Since 1995, under the 19-year directorship of former dancer Brigitte Lefèvre, Paris Opera Ballet's already outstanding resume featured renowned contemporary choreographers such as William Forsythe, Pina Bausch and John Neumeier. In its upcoming season come September 2019, the company performs a new series of sixty-minute performances divided up into as many choreographed sequences, created by Crystal Pite, at the Palais Garnier in Paris.

Here are seven more reasons why Paris Opera Ballet's got our hearts in allégro.


An old soul in a young body

Paris Opera Ballet is one of the world’s youngest and oldest ballet companies at the same time. Its dancers average 25 years old, while the company is more than 300 years old.


They gave classical ballet its visual identity

The white tutu that is synonymous with romantic ballet first appeared in 1832, with Paris Opera's premiere of the ballet La Sylphide by Philippe Taglioni. It was intended as a showcase for his daughter Marie, who shortened her skirts to show off her pointe work and this was considered scandalous at the time.


The OG of ballet

Louis XIV, also referred to as the Sun King, founded the Académie d'Opéra (Academy of Opera) in 1669. That was the first iteration of Paris Opera (the company has two arms, dance and music). In 1672, it was renamed Académie Royale de Musique (Royal Academy of Music). This is considered a milestone in the history of ballet, as dance or music had never had a public stage before, having only been performed at court by members of the court.

By the late 1670s, Paris Opera boasted, for the first time in history, professional dancers. Ballet gradually gained its independence as its repertoire grew, coming into its own in the 19th century, known as the era of romantic ballets.

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It's all in the stars

Out of 154 dancers, there are 16 Danceur Étoiles (male) or Danseuse Étoiles (females), which literally means “star dancers”. This is the equivalent of the rank of Principal Dancer or Prima Ballerina/Primo Ballerino and is the highest rank a dancer can reach in Paris Opera Ballet.


They started with boys too

Much like the opera in both East and West, dancers in Paris Opera Ballet were all male. It was only in 1681 that female dancers were welcome. In that year, Mademoiselle La Fontaine made history as the first ever professional ballerina in the premiere of Le Triomphe de l'Amour (The Triumph of Love). Another legendary dancer out of Paris Opera Ballet is Sylvie Guillem, nominated an Étoile at the age of 19 by Rudolf Nureyev, who was Director of Dance then and one of the greatest classical dancers of all time.


They've set the barre so high

In 1713, Louis XIV created a training school to achieve the highest standards among dancers. The school that he sanctioned was called the Conservatoire. Today, it's known as Paris Opera Ballet School and is the oldest ballet school in the world.

To be accepted into the Paris Opera Corps de ballet, it is an unspoken rule that dancers must first be admitted into the Paris Opera Ballet School, pass the annual examinations and attend classes in the final two advanced levels. There’s no bell curve here – 90 percent of dancers fail the entrance examinations into the school.


They never break rank (because there's no reason to)

Dancers are promoted once a year, competing before a jury of executives and key figures in the dance world. Étoiles can only be nominated by the Opera’s Director, after being proposed by the Director of Dance.

It is through competition and rigour that Paris Opera Ballet achieves its technical mastery – across the board. "Even an 18-year-old ballet dancer has been learning his or her craft for thousands of hours, and that is what Mr. Forsythe brings to the fore here… Blake Works I shows its glorious technical heritage," states a review by The New York Times.

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The amazing dancers from Paris Opera Ballet graced the Esplanade Theatre in three stunning nights, performing a trio of contemporary works by William Forsythe, Jerome Robbins and Crystal Pite.

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