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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 24 MARCH 2007— As far back as I remember, the Paris Opéra Ballet School has enjoyed the reputation of being the finest of its kind in the world. It is certainly the oldest. Opened in 1713 by Louis XIV, it began by training the court dancers, but by 1780, it was accepting pupils alongside the existing classes for adults. Over the years it has been directed by a number of prestigious names including Jean Coralli, the immortal choreographer of Giselle, and Arthur Saint-Léon whose best-loved choreography remains Coppélia. In 1987, at the initiative of Claude Bessy, the school left its cramped quarters in the Palais Garnier to move into a magnificent new setting in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the level of instruction, assured of today by many of the Opéra stars who worked with Rudolf Nureyev, continues to rise.

This season, the school is celebrating thirty years of demonstrations open to the public as well as thirty years of highly professional public performances, and it is also the twentieth anniversary of the move to Nanterre, just a couple of train stops away from the Opéra.

The OpĂ©ra Ă©toile, Elisabeth Platel, who took over the post of director in 2004, thus decided to present a special programme combining the theatrical tragedy, Le Prisonnier du Caucase, choreographed by George Skribine in 1951, followed by the stylistic perfection of Bournonville's romantic  Napoli, concluding the evening with John Neumeier's neo-classical Yondering, a wonderful ballet which traces the passage from childhood to adulthood with humour and artistic sensibility. It's not only classical dance which is being taught, but contemporary, character and folklore, with emphasis on artistic expression.

George Skribine: Le Prisonnier du Caucase
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School

Le Prisonnier du Caucase, set to an exhilarating score by Khachaturian, is a ballet based on Pushkin's poem which tells the story of the love of a young Circassienne girl for a captured Russian officer during the Russian Caucasian war at the beginning of the 19th century. She helps him escape, but then, having lost the man she loves and having betrayed her country, she is compelled to kill herself.

The beginning of the ballet, with the build up of atmosphere as the warriors leaped onto the stage, was tremendous. All the boys taking part were excellent, particularly Takeru Coste, a young student who already distinguished himself last year whilst in the second division. He was particularly outstanding as the powerful leader of the warriors, dancing with style, elegance and amazing precision, commanding the stage. Moreover, the character dances with their unconventional use of point shoes for the men was most impressive.

However, the ballet proved to be terribly dated and did not fulfil its promising start. The scene where the girls came on was rather like a second rate musical comedy, with no emotional content or valid choreography. The women's movements were very ungainly, and although Skibine is said to create along the lines of Les Ballets Russes of Diaghilev, his work bears no resemblance to that of, for instance, Michel Fokine, whose ballets are timeless.

Bournonville: Napoli
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School

Napoli was altogether thoroughly enjoyable. But although two of the girls stood out, the lions' share of the choreography seemed to go again to the boys. Or is their level so much higher? Created in 1842 for the Royal Ballet of Denmark, dancing in the pas de six and tarentelle was bright, light and fluid. It seemed a natural piece for the opera students.

However, it was Neumeier's Yondering, set to Irish melodies and Anglo-American airs of the last century which was the undisputed triumph of the evening. It is a work intended exclusively for young performers and the students, coached by Kevin Haigen, John Neumeier's assistant, were idealistic and full of the energy and enthusiasm demanded by the choreography. The boys again dominated with their extraordinary artistic sensibility and technical ability.

John Neumeier: Yondering
Photo: David Elofer
Photo courtesy of Paris Opera Ballet School

The question that one asks is what happens to all these promising dancers once they leave the company as, presumably, places cannot be found for all of them in Paris. Positions in the company, and practically all the boys who graduate this year merit their place, do depend on vacancies. How can the French company afford to let them go elsewhere? Moreover, dancers of the quality of Takeru Coste cannot be left to fester in the back row of the corps de ballet. How long before this gifted interpreter makes the forefront of the French scene?

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at

 Related CK Archives

John Neumeier: Lady of the Camellias

Neumeier's Sylvia: Nymphs in Black Leather Shorts

Giselle at the Palais Garnier

Hamburg Ballet: Nijinsky, Choreography: John Neumeier

Ballet School Ensures Future for the Paris Opera Ballet, but What About the Dancers ?

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