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Dancers Compete for Top Positions in Paris Opera Ballet


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 1 March 2005—"While I was warming up and for some time before that, I actually managed to convince myself that, yes, I was a swan, a princess who had been transformed into a swan", Emilie Cozette, the recently promoted première danseuse of the Paris Opéra Ballet laughed. "I've wanted to dance Swan Lake for years and years, so when the occasion came along I wasn't going to spoil it by thinking of the jury sitting down there and judging me. I just went on and danced for the sheer joy of doing so and I completely forgot they were there".

"And then when the time came to interpret Other Dances I was overjoyed," she continued, "as I've wanted to dance that variation for over three years; I love the works of Jerome Robbins. One of the very positive features of the competition is that it does give dancers the opportunity to dance a solo of their own choosing as well as the set variation which this year was that of the Black Swan".

Black Swan
Emilie Cozette
Photo: ICARE

As is generally known within the dance world, the Paris' company has a very rigid hierarchy and chances to interpret solos lower down the ranks are few. Since an "exam" for promotion was installed in 1860, the most junior grade in the company, a quadrille, can apply for the position of coryphée if there is a vacancy, following it up by promotion to sujet, a rank which is still part of the corps de ballet and not quite soloist in its own right, if a position is available the following year. The top of the ladder is the position of première danseuse / danseur, excluding nominations to étoile, a title normally given to exceptional dancers and directly awarded by the artistic director and general director. Places are limited and highly coveted and certainly the competition is fierce.

The contest begins well beforehand as ten out of the thirty possible points given for the competition are awarded for performances during the previous season. Not only did Emilie Cozette, now 23, dance divinely on the day of the contest, but this lovely ballerina, tall, blond and slender, has more than proved her worth in such roles as Glass Pieces ( again Jerome Robbins), and in the diamond variation from the Precious Stones from the third act of Sleeping Beauty over the Christmas season.

Emmanuel Thibault, who has dazzled audiences with his brilliance in such roles as Basilio in Don Quixote and as the Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty, two roles which alone should have awarded him the thirty points necessary, was given the rank of premier danseur after a faultless demonstration of Siegfried's solo from Swan Lake, Act 3. Such a title means that he will now be appearing more regularly as soloist, a fact which his massive following will be quick to pick up. Rumour has it that this charismatic young dancer receives more fan-mail than the whole of the French football team put together!

Emmanuel Thibault
Emmanuel Thibault
Photo: ICARE

But put the question to him and he simply replies that he has always been very touched by all the letters he receives and that he tries to reply to as many as he can. He had been, he told me, particularly moved by all the congratulations he had received from the Paris Opéra dancers themselves, and very content that his value as an interpreter had been officially recognised by the administration.

Amongst the other young dancers to be promoted were the radiant Sarah Kora Dayanova, 20, to coryphée and Josua Hoffalt, 20, to the rank of sujet. Both promise much in the future.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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