PARIS - Founded in 1713, the Paris Opera Ballet is about to celebrate 300 years of innovations, while continuing to transmit its classical repertoire.
This festive season, as always, the Ballet is a huge success. Whether it is for its 26 performances of the classic "Don Quixote" at the Bastille Opera; the 21 nights dedicated to William Forsythe and Trisha Brown, two contemporary choreographers at the Opera Garnier, or even the six presentation shows by the Paris Opera Ballet School – the performances are fully booked, with a total of 110,000 spectators. This is without taking into account those who saw the Dec. 18 live performance of "Don Quixote" relayed in the 76 movie theatres around France.
"Every time the numbers outmatch our expectations. But we can’t rely only on old recipes; we have to be constantly innovating. We need to create, but also to make people watch and watch again – from another point of view," says Brigitte Lefevre, the Ballet’s director.
The troupe is composed of 154 dancers, 19 of which are "etoile" ("star" in French) leading dancers. It remains a perpetual fountain of live art, alternating classic and contemporary creations. Home to some of the best choreographers, it is considered – with London’s Royal Ballet and Moscow’s Bolshoï – as the most prestigious in the world. Its repertoire is rich, from romantic pieces to classic and contemporary pieces, including special performances by invited artists.
Each production requires an investment between 150,000 and one million euros, which is much cheaper than an opera but the tickets are twice as cheap too. In 2012, the ballet generated 18.6 million euros in benefits and enthralled 350,000 French spectators during 166 performances. Most of the dancers are graduates from the Paris Opera Ballet School and their median age is 25. They earn 2.655 euros a month at their debuts, to finally reach around 7000 euros as an etoile. This does not come close to a renowned opera singer’s salary.
Founded in 1713 under King Louis XIV as a dance school for artists to perfect their talents, the Paris Opera Ballet is the cradle of classical dance in France. This innovative structure gave French dancers international fame. Moved to the Palais Garnier opera from 1876 to 1987, it now resides in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre, in a place where French tradition is transmitted to budding artists.
The legendary Opéra Garnier Theater in Paris (Peter Rivera)
Despite its flattering reputation and its international influence – the Ballet only toured twice in 2012, in the U.S. and Japan – Brigitte Lefevre is disappointed with "the lack of time and space allocated to ballet in France."
Stephane Lissner, the future head of the Paris Opera, has expressed his wish to see the troupe perform each year in a different French city for a few days. For the moment, very few French cities outside Paris are actively promoting dance: Bordeaux and Toulouse have their own troupes and opera houses and Nice’s ballet is drawing more attention every day… As of the other 19 existing national choreographic centers, they have rooms for rehearsals but no stages.