Louis XIV, founding father
In 1713, Louis XIV promulgated the decree that officially created the « Ballet Conservatoire » reserved for the Royal Academy of Music. This structure institutionalizes the existence of classes for professionals, similar to those now enjoyed by the Corps de Ballet, as at first classes were not at all intended for children, although some artists’ sons or daughters found their places there. It was not until 1780 that the first regulations certified a school devoted entirely to them, thus endorsing a use appeared over time. It was also necessary to clarify essential issues: free tuition as Louis XIV originally imposed it, admission through selection, fees and salaries, and a professional frame to the education.
From French Revolution to the Third Republic
In 1784, a second decree of Louis XVI extends the duration of classes and created a special class for children under twelve. It is indeed better to recruit students at a very young age, devoid of any training and, therefore of any flaw to correct. Thereafter, the French Revolution and the Empire do not challenge the school but refine the functioning with a series of successive regulations. In particular, to ensure impartiality and to avoid possible protections, a jury from the company is formed, sovereign during the passing from one class to another as well as for the hiring into the company.
Teaching is done in three steps, an elementary school until thirteen, the upper class until sixteen, then, for a few, the “special class for improvements”, foreshadowing the “advanced class” that Marie Taglioni manage to implement under the Third Republic. Students may not remain in the upper class more than one year and no more than two years in the “special class” preceding theirs debuts. They should not stay at School after they are eighteen, when they must at least start their careers. It may happen that they are excluded, masters having orders to take this measure to “maintain zeal and emulation (among students)”, two of Napoleon’s dearest values. For the same reasons, rankings were also introduced and are still in effect today, as for the age limit in the First Division, still eighteen, and the examination juries.
While this school was a model for Europe, at the end ofthe Romantic period, it withered. I fit survived, it was thanks to personalities’s flawless faith MarieTaglioni, Dominique, Rosita Mauri, Carlotta Zambelliand Albert Aveline among others. Generation after generation, despite the neglect of successive directions of the Paris Opera, despite the financial abandonment of government, all sought to preserve the soul of this style, which went back to the founding of the Royal Academy of Dance by LouisXIV in 1661.
Initially located rue Saint-Nicaise, then in the Palais Garnier, the school is now located in Nanterre. This move was made necessary when the duration of compulsory education was set at 16 years, the "Petits rats", until now apprentices implicitly became students. By the 1960s, the direction of the Opera started to think about necessary solutions.Under the direction ofClaudeBessy, the school investsthe buildingof Christian dePortzamparc in 1987, where children, like all those of their generationcan takeupbaccalaureatestudiesalongside theirvocational training.
The School today
The nowadays Ballet School was born with Claude Bessy, Director from 1972 to 2004, who gave it its educational autonomy with its installation in Nanterre. Keeping the pattern she built bringing together tradition and vision for the future, Elisabeth Platel then brought her own scent by emphasizing on stylistic virtuosity. The School must enrol artists with outstanding physical abilities and try to instil a common breathing whilst preserving individuality. In 2004, a specific medical supervision was established to ensure the physical preparation and the becoming of future dancers. For more than 300 years, the artistic education at the Opera favoured direct transmission from master to student, guarantying the French School of Ballet and ensuring the sustainability of the Paris Opera Ballet. The School – still called School of the Paris Opera Ballet not long ago – is closely linked to it thanks to its structure but also to its programming. Meanwhile, the Paris Opera Ballet School must comply with the Ministry of National Education and the relationship with the team in charge of general education, hosted within the School since 1987, has been strengthened through joint educational projects between the artistic and intellectual training. At the end of the curriculum, the students leave the School with the Higher professional Diploma for Dancers and the baccalaureate in literature.
© Natacha Hochman / ONP