What Makes the Paris Opéra Ballet the Paris Opéra Ballet?

New Yorkers are getting revved to see this company, which hasn’t come to the U.S. in 16 years. We know they are elegant, refined, and highly technical. But isn't that true of any ballet company? What, really, sets them apart? Most of the dancers come right out of the POB school, but what does that training emphasize? It’s not the Balanchine style of moving large and fast; it’s not the big bravura leaps of the Bolshoi or the ethereal port de bras of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet. What does POB have that's unique?


We do know that Paris Opéra Ballet has incredible étoiles, which is a source of excitement in itself. As artistic director Brigitte Lefèvre says about the étoiles in our cover story on Marie-Agnès Gillot: “They have something from the au-delà [the other world], at the same time beautiful and fragile.”

 

POB in Pina Bausch's Orpheus and Eurydice. Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.

 

I will be indulging in étoile-watching this week when POB comes to Lincoln Center Festival. (And by the way, Gillot really is a special creature on the stage.) But I will also be looking to see if I can discern a POB style. Stay tuned for my blog on this, and for dance historian Lynn Garafola’s review, which will be posted on our reviews page after the season is over.

 

POB in Maurice Bejart's Boléro. Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.

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Ballet BC dancers Tara Williamson, left, and Darren Devaney in RITE by Emily Molnar. Photo by Chris Randle, Courtesy Ballet BC

Why Do Mixed-Rep Companies Still Rely on Ballet for Company Class?

In a single performance by a mixed-rep company, you might see its shape-shifting dancers performing barefoot, in sneakers and in heels. While such a group may have "ballet" in its name and even a rack of tutus in storage, its current relationship to the art form can be tenuous at best. That disconnect grows wider every year as contemporary choreographers look beyond ballet—if not beyond white Western forms entirely—in search of new inspiration and foundational techniques.

Yet dancers at almost all of the world's leading mixed-rep ensembles take ballet classes before rehearsals and shows. Most companies rarely depart from ballet more than twice a week and some never offer alternative classes.

"The question, 'Why do you take ballet class to prepare you for repertory which is not strictly classical?' has been in the air since Diaghilev's time," says Peter Lewton-Brain, Monaco-based president of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science. "What you're doing onstage is often not what you're doing in class."

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