Paris Opera Ballet

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Paris Opera Ballet
Logo Opéra national de Paris.jpg
Opéra national de Paris
General information
Name Paris Opera Ballet
Local name Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris
Previous names
  • Académie d'Opéra
  • Académie Royale de Musique
  • Académie Impériale de Musique
  • Théâtre National de l'Opéra
Year founded 1669
Principal venue Palais Garnier,
Place de l'Opéra,
Paris, 9th arrondissement,
Website [1]
Senior staff
Administrator Olivier Aldeano
Director Aurélie Dupont
Artistic staff
Ballet Master in Chief
Associated schools Paris Opera Ballet School[1]
Formation Étoile
Premier Danseur

The Paris Opera Ballet - French: "Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris" - is the oldest national ballet company. Together with the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet and the London Royal Ballet it is regarded as one of the three most preeminent ballet companies in the world.[2]

Since August 2016 the company is under the direction of Aurélie Dupont, the "Directrice de la Danse".[3]

The ballet company consists of 154 dancers, among them 17 Danseurs Étoiles, the Principal Dancers, giving 180 dance performances each year primarily at the Palais Garnier.[4]

Just as prestigious as the Paris Opera Ballet is its Dance School, the Paris Opera Ballet School - "École de danse de l'Opéra national de Paris" - which is considered by the French as the world's best dance school[5]

The competition for admission to both institutions is extremely fierce.[6] To be admitted there, to pass the annual competitive examinations in May, and to attend at least the final two classes is basically compulsary for dancers entering the Paris Opera Ballet.[7]

As its Ballet School is excellent providig sufficiently many young dancers, which are in nineteen times out of twenty French, there is in the Paris Opera Ballet Company nobody from another country.[7]



The Paris Opera Ballet has always been an integral part of the Paris Opera, which was founded in 1669 as the Académie d'Opéra (Academy of Opera), although theatrical dance did not become an important component of the Paris Opera until 1673, after it was renamed the Académie Royale de Musique (Royal Academy of Music) and placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully.[1][8] The Paris Opera has had many different official names during its long history but since 1994 has been called the Opéra National de Paris (Paris National Opera). [9]


The Paris Opera Ballet had its origins in the earlier dance institutions, traditions and practices of the court of Louis XIV. Of particular importance were the series of comédies-ballets created by Molière with, among others, the choreographers and composers Pierre Beauchamps and Jean-Baptiste Lully. The first was Les Fâcheux in 1661 and the most important, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme in 1670.[10] Many of these were also performed by Molière's company at the public Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris, which was later to become the first permanent home of the opera company and the opera ballet.

Also in 1661, Louis XIV had founded the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Academy of Dance) in an effort "to improve the quality of dance instruction for court entertainments". Members of the academy, as well as the dance teachers who were certified by it, and their students, participated in the creation of the ballets for the court, Molière, and later the opera.[11] In 1680, Beauchamps became the chancellor (director) of the Académie Royale de Danse.[8][12] Although the Académie Royale de Danse and the Opera were closely connected, the two institutions remained separate, and the former disappeared with the fall of the monarchy in 1789.[13]

Founding and early history[edit]

On 28 June 1669, Louis XIV granted a privilege to the poet Pierre Perrin giving him a monopoly to form a separate academy for the performance of opera in French. The first production of the company founded by Perrin, the Académie d'Opéra (Academy of Opera),[14] was Pomone, which was first performed on 3 March 1671 at the Jeu de Paume de la Bouteille and included ballets choreographed by Anthoine des Brosses.[15]

In 1672, Lully purchased Perrin's privilege and also obtained new letters patent limiting the use of musicians and dancers by other French companies. With Anthoine des Brosses and Lully as choreographers and Carlo Vigarani as stage designer, Lully's company, now called the Académie Royale de Musique, produced Lully's first opera, Les fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus (a pastorale) in November 1672 at the Jeu de Paume de Béquet.[16] This work consisted primarily of excerpts from Lully's prior court ballets connected with new entrées choreographed by des Brosses.[17] A crucial difference, however, from the previous court ballets was that the members of the court no longer participated, and all of the dancers were professionals.[18]

Lully's next production, Cadmus et Hermione (27 April 1673), the first tragédie lyrique (with a libretto by Philippe Quinault), also premiered at the Jeu de Paume de Béquet and was choreographed by Anthoine des Brosses.[17] Pierre Beauchamps, who had been working with Molière at the Palais-Royal, joined Lully's company in June 1673 (not long after Molière's death), when Lully took over the Palais-Royal theatre, forcing Molière's troupe to move to the Théâtre Guénégaud. Lully and Quinault continued to collaborate on a series of successful productions, in the process creating a new genre of French opera in which dance interludes played an important part in the musical drama.[19] The ballets for these works were created by Beauchamps, des Brosses, and d'Olivet. Jean-Baptiste Dubos explains that Beauchamps and des Brosses were responsible for the ballets ordinaires, while d'Olivet specialized in ballet-pantomime:

Lully paid such great attention to the ballets mentioned here that he engaged for their choreography a 'maître de danse particulier' named d'Olivet. It was he, and not des Brosses or Beauchamps, whom Lully engaged for the 'ballets ordinaires', who composed the ballets of the infernal scenes of Psyché and Alceste. It was also d'Olivet who composed the ballet of the old men in Thesée, of the baneful dreams in Atys, and of the tremblers in Isis. This last was composed solely of pantomimic gestures by men seized with cold, and he did not introduce a single usual dance step into it.[20]

Initially the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet were all male. Mademoiselle de la Fontaine (1665–1738) became the first professional ballerina when she danced in the premiere of Lully's ballet Le Triomphe de l'Amour on 21 January 1681.[21] Pierre Beauchamps continued to collaborate with Lully at the Paris Opera until Lully's death in 1687.[12]

Later history[edit]

The 18th century saw the creation of an associated school, now referred to as the Paris Opera Ballet School (French: École de Danse de l’Opéra de Paris), which opened in 1713. The operas of Rameau, and later Gluck, raised standards for the dancers. Jean-Georges Noverre was a particularly influential ballet master from 1776 to 1781. He created the ballet Les petits riens in 1778 on Mozart's music. Maximilien Gardel was ballet master from 1781, with his brother Pierre Gardel taking over after Maximilien's death in 1787. Pierre Gardel survived the Revolution creating ballets such as La Marseillaise and Offrande à la Liberté.[1] He remained the ballet master until 1820 and continued to work up to 1829.[22]

In 1820, Pierre Gardel was succeeded as ballet master by Jean-Louis Aumer, who was however highly criticized for using too much mime and failing to use choreography which furthered plot or character.[22] In 1821, the company moved to a new house, the Salle Le Peletier, where Romantic ballet was born.

In 1875, the company moved to the Palais Garnier where it continues to perform.[1]

In 1929, Jacques Rouché invited 24-year-old dancer Serge Lifar to take over the directorship of the Paris Opéra Ballet, which had fallen into decline in the late 19th century. As ballet master from 1930 to 1944, and from 1947 to 1958, he devoted himself to the restoration of the technical level of the Opéra Ballet, returning it to its place as one of the best companies in the world. Lifar gave the company a new strength and purpose, initiating the rebirth of ballet in France, and began to create the first of many ballets for that company.[23] During his three decades as director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, Lifar led the company through the turbulent times of World War II and the German occupation of France. Lifar brought the Paris Opéra Ballet to America and performed to full houses at the New York City Center. Audiences were enthusiastic and had great admiration for the company of dancers.[23]

Era of Rudolf Nureyev[edit]

In the world of ballet Rudolf Nureyev is considered as the greatest classical dancer ever and as one of the most preeminent choreographers.[24]

In 1983, Rudolf Nureyev was appointed director of the Paris Opera Ballet, where, as well as directing, he continued to dance and to promote younger dancers.

The top female ballet dancer at that time, if not of all times[25][26] was Sylvie Guillem who was nominated principal dancer at the age of 19 by Rudolf Nureyev in 1984. They were a mythical dance couple.[27]

The years of Nureyev marked a golden era of the Paris Opera Ballet.[24] Brigitte Lefèvre, director from 1995 to 2014, succeeded to maintain the high standard that Nureyev has set. She invited some of the most preeminent choreographers such as William Forsythe, Angelin Preljocaj, Saburo Teshigawara, and John Neumeier.[28]


The hierarchy of the Paris Opera Ballet is very strict. For a dancer it is virtually compulsary to enter first the Paris Opera Ballet School. The competition for admission to both institutions is extremely fierce as well as the competion for the highest ranks in the ballet company.

More than 90 percent of the candidates don't pass the Ballet School entrance examination, 20 percent of its pupils have to leave at the end of the year failing in the annual commpetitive examinations ("les concours annuels") in May. Only 5 to 20 percent of the Ballet School graduates are accepted in the Paris Opera Ballet, initially as dancers on trial (the "stagiares").

To become regular member of the Paris Opera Ballet as "Quadrille" (fifth and lowest rank in the hierarchy) you have to pass the annual commpetitive examination in November. Promotion to the next rank depends exclusively on success in the following annual commpetitive examinations ("les concours internes de promotion") in front of a board of judges. To achieve the highest rank as Danseur Étoile (only by nomination) you have to perform in leading roles as "Premier Danseur" for many years before you are nominated due to outstanding excellence and merit.

Small scandals and the lost generation[edit]

As the Paris Opera Ballet has a large quantity of first-class French dansers there are hard times for those who have not been promoted to the highest ranks as dancers or have not been appointed afterwards for positions for which they would have been extremely qualified.

Mathilde Froustey, Sujet from 2005 till 2013 left the Paris Opera Ballet in July 2013 and joined the San Francisco Ballet as a prinipal dancer because there was no chance for her becoming eventually Danseuse étoile (prinicipal dancer) in this company. In November 2014 Benjamin Millepied, a former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and French, took over the direction of the company and promised a change: "They asked for a change and they will get a change." When Benjamin Millepied nominated for the first (and only) time a "Danseuse étoile", Laura Hecquet was chosen. Laura Hecquet and Mathilde Froustey were described in the press as "the lost generation" of dancers working up the ranks and became soloist (Sujet) but have been unlucky for years as far as climbing up the last step of the career ladder is concerned.

The Paris Opera Ballet School has churned out some of the most famous dancers of all time, such as Sylvie Guillem and Laurent Hilaire.[7].

Yet Sylvie Guillem, being prinicipal dancer since 1984, left the company in 1989 at the age of 24 because she wanted for more freedom, the right to perform with other companies, an arrangement the management of the Paris Opera Ballet declined.[27]

Laurent Hilaire was highly appreciated as principal dancer. After his farewell as a dancer he continued his career in the company attaining in 2011 the second-highest position as "Maitre de ballet associated to the direction". Laurent Hilaire was the favourite of Brigitte Lefèvre, director of the ballet at the time. the In January 2013 the director of the Paris Opera in the hierarchy above the Paris Opera Ballet's director appointed Benjamin Millepied. Hilaire announced in May 2014 his departure and quit the company in July. The Paris Opera Ballet's new director Benjamin Millepied on his part stayed only two seasons and was followed in August by Aurélie Dupont, who was as Danseuse Ètoile the Grand-dame of the Paris Opera Ballet.

François Alu, Premier Danseur since 2013 and the 23 years old, is regarded for his technique particularly stunning jumps and dazzling pirouettes and his dance style as the next principal dancer to be nominated.[29] Now, this isn't amazing news, well-known for at least two years.

Sylvie Guillem who was nominated Danseuse Étoile even at the age of 19 by Rudolf Nurejew, director of that time, told about Nurejew that he was excellent in this regard.[27]

Paris Opera Ballet School[edit]

The Paris Opera Ballet School - French: "École de danse de l'Opéra national de Paris" - is one of the most preeminent in the world.[30] It has six classes for boys and girls separately named "sixième division" to "première division". The Paris Opera Ballet School moved in 1987 from its place at the Palais Garnier where most of the Paris Opera Ballet representations take place to a new building located 10 kilometres east of the centre of Paris in Nanterre. The new dance school building was constructed by Christian de Portzamparc. Since 1995 the Paris Opera Ballet School is a boarding school[31], in which from 8 till noon all pupils attend school classes leading to the "baccalauréat (the bac)", the general qualification for university entrance in France.

Among the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet 95 percent have attended the Paris Opera Ballet School.[32] To describe it differently, for a young dancer to be accepted in the Paris Opera Corps de ballet it is virtually obligatory to enter the Paris Opera Ballet School and attend there at least the final two classes (deuxième et première division). More than 90 percent of the candidates don't pass the entrance examination[33]. Even some of the dancers who have later become premiers danseurs (first soloists) or danseurs étoiles (principal dancers) of the Paris Opera Ballet passed the entrance examination only on the second attempt or were accepted only as fee-paying pupils.[34]

Its former pupils have won a record of 18 Benois de la Danse awards since 1992. The school celebrated its tercentennial in 2013.


Choreographers associated with the Paris Opera Ballet and works created for the Paris Opera Ballet are:


There are five ranks of dancers in the Paris Opera Ballet, from highest to lowest they are: Danseur Étoile, premier danseur, sujet, coryphée, and quadrille.


Notable dancers[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d "Paris Opera Ballet" in Crane and Mackrell 2000, pp. 360–361.
  2. ^ If you add the St Petersburg St Petersburg Mariinsky Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre to the list you get the six top-ranking ballet companies, the crème de la crème.
  3. ^ Aurélie Dupont, the Paris Opera’s new Dance Director, report from the site of the Paris Opera, 1 August 2016.
  4. ^ Paris Opera Ballet, site of the Paris Opera.
  5. ^ Paris Opera Ballet School - a World of its Own, L'école de danse, un monde à part, review of the press of April 2013.
  6. ^ See below (paragraph hierarchy).
  7. ^ a b c Interview with New San Francisco Ballet Principal, Mathilde Froustey, by Laura Jaye Cramer, 23 January 2014, SF Weekly, extract: "You cannot get into the company if you have not done the school" (Mathilde Froustey).
  8. ^ a b Christout 1998, p. 86.
  9. ^ "Histoire de l'Opéra national de Paris" (in French) at the Paris Opera website. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  10. ^ Guest 2006, pp. 5–7.
  11. ^ Astier 1998a, p. 3.
  12. ^ a b Astier 1998b, pp. 396–397.
  13. ^ Astier 1998a, p. 4. The last list of its members was published in the 1779 Almanach des spectacles de Paris Archive Larousse.
  14. ^ Also referred to as the Académie Royale des Opéra (Powell 2010, p. 178).
  15. ^ Powell 1995, p. 179; Guest 2006, p. 7; Powell 2010, p. 178. It is frequently stated that Beauchamps choreographed the ballets for Pomone (e.g., Astier 1998a, p. 3). According to Powell, this misunderstanding is based on the 'Recueil de Tralage' (ca. 1697; MS 6544, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Paris). A manuscript legal document in the Archives of the Comédie-Française makes clear, however, that Anthoine des Brosses, who had earlier served as dancing master for the Théâtre du Marais, choreographed the ballets for Pomone. Beauchamps only took over des Brosses's position with Perrin's company in the late autumn or early winter of 1671, when des Brosses moved back to the Marais to choreograph Jean Donneau de Visé's musical machine-play Le Mariage de Bacchus et d'Ariane (performed at the Théâtre du Marais in the winter of 1671–1672).
  16. ^ Powell 2008, pp. 127, 233 note 44; Powell 2010, p. 178; Jérôme de La Gorce, "Lully's first opera. A rediscovered poster for Les fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus", Early Music, vol. 15, no. 3, Lully Anniversary Issue (Aug., 1987), pp. 308–314, JSTOR 3137552. Libretto, 1672; ms score from the Philidor Collection, 1705.
  17. ^ a b Powell 2010, p. 178.
  18. ^ Astier 1998a, p. 3. Note however that the Gazette d'Amsterdam reports that nobles did dance in public at certain performances (cited by La Gorce 2002, pp. 189–190).
  19. ^ Christout 1998, pp. 86–87.
  20. ^ Quoted and translated by Powell 1995, p. 185, citing Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et sur la peinture, Paris, 1719, p. 357. See p. 247 of the Troisième Partie of the 1740 edition at Gallica.
  21. ^ Guest 2006, p. 9; Pitou 1983, pp. 249, 325–326. Le Triomphe de l'Amour at Score of Le Triomphe de l'Amour at Gallica.
  22. ^ a b Babsky 1998, p. 202.
  23. ^ a b Crisp, Clement (Winter 2002). "ICARE: Remembering Serge Lifar". Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research. 2. 20: 3–15. doi:10.3366/1290812. 
  24. ^ a b Philippe Noisette, « Que reste-t-il de Noureev ? » Les Échos, 1 March 2013.
  25. ^ Sylvie Guillem: the greatest female dancer I have ever seen, article by Sarah Crampton, 4 November 2014, The Telegraph.
  26. ^ Sylvie Guillem: Life in Progress - the greatest dancer of our time calls it quits, article by Nick Miller, 1 August 2015, The Sydney Morning Herald.
  27. ^ a b c « Sylvie Guillem:Force of Nature », The Culture Show, BBC Two, 9 octobre 2013.
  28. ^ "Brigitte Lefèvre" (in French). France Inter. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  29. ^ Opéra de ParisFrançois Alu mène la danse, article by Philippe Noisette, 29 December 2015, Paris Match.
  30. ^ The Ballet School, site of the Paris Opera.
  31. ^ Between 1987 and 1995 the Paris Opera Ballet School was a boarding school as well, but obtaining the bac was not compulsory.
  32. ^ Pourquoi les ballets de l'Opéra de Paris font partie des spectacles favoris des fêtes, article by Martine Robert, 27 December 2013, Les Echos
  33. ^ The first entrance examination is a physical test, the second one an audition
  34. ^ For example Léonore Baulac, first soloist, or Mathias Heymann, principal dancer.
  35. ^ JARRE, M.: Notre-Dame de Paris (Petit, Paris National Opera, 1996) (NTSC).


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  • Astier, Régine (1998b). "Beauchamps, Pierre" in Cohen 1998, vol. 1., pp. 396–397.
  • Babsky, Monique (1998). "Aumer, Jean-Louis" in Cohen 1998, vol. 1, pp. 201–203.
  • Christout, Marie-Françoise (1998). "Paris Opera Ballet" in Cohen 1998, vol. 5, pp. 86–100.
  • Cohen, Selma Jeanne, editor (1998). International Encyclopedia of Dance (6 volumes). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-509462-6 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-19-517369-7 (2004 paperback edition).
  • Craine, Debra; Mackrell, Judith (2000). The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860106-7.
  • Guest, Ivor (2006). The Paris Opéra Ballet. Alton, Hampshire: Dance Books. ISBN 978-1-85273-109-0.
  • La Gorce, Jérôme de (2002). Jean-Baptiste Lully (in French). Paris: Fayard. ISBN 9782213607085.
  • Pitou, Spire (1983). The Paris Opéra: An Encyclopedia of Operas, Ballets, Composers, and Performers. Genesis and Glory, 1671–1715. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-686-46036-7.
  • Powell, John S. (1995). "Pierre Beauchamps, Choreographer to Molière's Troupe de Roy", Music & Letters, vol. 76, no. 2 (May), pp. 168–186. JSTOR 737729.
  • Powell, John S. (2008). "Pierre Beauchamps and the Public Theatre", pp. 117–135 in Dance, Spectacle, and the Body Politic, edited by Jennifer Nevile. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253351531. Online pdf.
  • Powell, John S. (2010). "Performance Practices at the Théâtre de Guénégaud and the Comédie-Française: Evidence from Charpentier's Mélanges autographes", pp. 161–183 in New Perspectives on Marc-Antoine Charpentier, edited by Shirley Thompson. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. ISBN 9780754665793.