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Ballet School


© Agathe Poupeney / OnP

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.

© Francette Levieux / OnP

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 managed 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.

© Francette Levieux / OnP

Outstanding personalities

While this school was a model for Europe, at the end of the Romantic period, it withered. If it survived, it was thanks to personalities’s flawless faith Marie Taglioni, Dominique, Rosita Mauri, Carlotta Zambelli and 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 Louis XIV 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 of Claude Bessy, the school invests the building of Christian de Portzamparc in 1987, where children, like all those of their generation can take up baccalaureate studies alongside their vocational 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 enroll artists with outstanding physical abilities and try to instill 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 favored 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 Ballet School of the Opéra national de Paris 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.

Juillet 2014
Juillet 2014 © Francette Levieux / OnP
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