Feb 14, 2011
Feb 13, 2011
In the seventeenth century, under King Louis XIV, ballet teaching became standardized, its steps codified, and the five positions of the feet defined. The French School officially began in the 1660s when Louis founded royal academies of dance and of music, forerunners of the School of the Paris Opera Ballet. But even before that Pierre Beauchamps had begun to codify and standardize teaching; we continue to use his terminology.
France produced great dancers, choreographers, and ballet masters who migrated to Russia, Denmark, and elsewhere throughout Europe. Marius Petipa, creator of so many classic ballets still performed today, is the most famous.
The hallmark of the French School is a clean and sophisticated style –ballet with elegance, with chic. Positions are perfect every time. The cleanness comes from an insistence on scrupulous placement, on hips correctly aligned with shoulders and on legs that move independently of the pelvis. The training concentrates on port de bras and épaulement from the earliest stages. First-year students do their exercises facing the barre and holding it with both hands, sometimes doing nothing more than moving their heads properly. Claude Bessy, who directed the school for more than thirty years beginning in 1973, expanded the curriculum, adding character, mime, gymnastics, and partnering classes to traditional ballet technique.
Admission to the School of the Opera Ballet begins with a medical examination, which now includes X rays to warn of any anatomical malformations or potential problems. It is possible to push such carefully screened students much harder, to insist on 180-degree turnout and perfect fifth positions –not something that can safely be done with the average student. Body types may have changed over the years, but the French traditions of technique and training are proudly maintained.
Former étoile Elisabeth Platel became director in 2004.
By Eliza Gaynor Minden – The Ballet Companion
Claudia's Note: Here is a little video from the Paris Ballet School nowadays: