Paris Opera Bal­let’s for­eign dancers are reach­ing for stars

Paris Opera Bal­let’s for­eign dancers are reach­ing for the stars

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Watch­ing YouTube as a child in Aus­tralia, the idea of one day join­ing the ranks of the hal­lowed Paris Opera Bal­let seemed noth­ing short of an im­pos­si­ble dream.

It didn’t stop Bianca Scu­d­amore day­dream­ing about it, though.

And now, hav­ing just turned 19, she’s the ris­ing star at the world renowned com­pany. Un­like the Royal Bal­let in London or the New York City-based Amer­i­can Bal­let Theatre, the Paris Opera Bal­let has very few for­eign dancers - of its 154, only 25 are not from France.

That’s more than was tra­di­tion­ally the case, as dancers from else­where have in re­cent years been ac­cepted into its hi­er­ar­chi­cal ranks, some even with­out hav­ing first trained at the com­pany's pres­ti­gious bal­let school - un­think­able, at one time.

In 2012, Ar­gentina’s Lud­mila Pagliero be­came its first dancer from Latin Amer­ica to be named an ‘etoile’, a term re­served for a se­lect few, equiv­a­lent to prin­ci­pal dancer. There have been a few other non-Euro­pean ‘etoiles’. AFP met four of the cur­rent per­form­ers from fur­ther afield who have joined the Paris com­pany founded by Louis XIV and which has its own very par­tic­u­lar French style.

Bianca Scu­d­amore from Aus­tralia

De­scribed as the ‘baby bal­le­rina’ be­cause of her ten­der age, to­day she is just two steps away from the lofty ‘etoile’ ti­tle.

Scu­d­amore started danc­ing when she was three at home in Bris­bane, and threw her­self into the English-style classical bal­let of The Royal Academy of Dance, aged 13. But her goal was Paris and she would watch YouTube videos of the Paris Opera Bal­let. At 14, she au­di­tioned for the Paris com­pany’s bal­let school, de­spite her teacher's reser­va­tions.

“My teacher told me, 'for­eign­ers don’t re­ally get to this school, you don’t re­ally have any chance,’ so I said I am go­ing to take my chance,” she said.

It paid off.

Nev­er­the­less, she had to adapt to the French school of dance, a style of bal­let rooted in tra­di­tion and quite dif­fer­ent from what she had learned in Aus­tralia.

The foot move­ments are much faster and more dif­fi­cult and an­other dif­fer­ence is in the epaule­ment, or use of head and shoul­ders in bal­let, Scu­d­amore said, of the Paris tech­nique.

She faced other chal­lenges too.

"In the be­gin­ning it was very hard be­cause I am very close to my fam­ily," she said.

“The whole year I cried al­most ev­ery night. But it was the bal­let that kept me go­ing, kept me mo­ti­vated when I was feel­ing down,” she added.

Now she feels at home in Paris and has a strong so­cial me­dia pres­ence, with 16,000 Instagram fol­low­ers.

South Korea’s Sae-Eun Park

For Sae Eun Park, a 29 year old South Korean, ar­riv­ing in Paris was some­thing of a rude awak­en­ing. “I was a soloist with the Korean Na­tional Bal­let and I danced all the prin­ci­pal roles When I ar­rived at the

Opera I was on a lim­ited con­tract and in the wings the whole time,” she said. “But I learned a lot.”

The daugh­ter of an em­ployee at the Korean con­glom­er­ate Sam­sung and a pi­anist, her love af­fair with bal­let started when her father took her to see the Nut


She was trained by Rus­sian dancers - there not be­ing an Asian style of bal­let as such - in her home city of Seoul.

At 17, she won the Prix de Lausanne, the most pres­ti­gious bal­let com­pe­ti­tion in the world, and dis­cov­ered the French style of dance dur­ing lessons given by a for­mer Korean Paris Opera dancer, de­scrib­ing it as a rev­e­la­tion.

In 2015, she was in­vited to dance at the cel­e­brated Mari­in­sky Theatre in St Peters­burg. “One of my for­mer teach­ers was there. It was un­for­get­table. She said, 'I can see you have changed a lot, but don’t for­get that de­spite the dif­fer­ences in style, the im­por­tant thing is to ex­press your­self from the in­side’,” she re­called.

Chun-Wing Lam from China

In 2015, Chun-Wing Lam caused a sen­sa­tion in his na­tive Hong Kong when he be­came the first Chi­nese to join the Paris bal­let. “Dance is val­ued more in France. In Hong Kong, they found my story as­ton­ish­ing. I was a boy who did classical dance,” the 22 year old said.

He is a ‘quadrille’, the most ju­nior rank at the Paris com­pany.

En­cour­aged by his mother, at the age of seven he felt a bit like ‘Billy Elliot’, the main char­ac­ter of the film about a boy who learns to dance.

“In the stu­dio, there was just lit­tle girls in a tutu. I was shocked. But af­ter 15 min­utes at the barre, it gave me huge plea­sure,” he said. His teacher sent a video of him to the Paris school and a week later, he was given a test, aged 14.

“The first two years were re­ally hard. At the school, where I was a res­i­dent, the use of the tele­phone was for­bid­den in the day and with the time dif­fer­ence I found it hard to talk to my par­ents,” he re­called.

He also had to get used to new ways of danc­ing - more rounded arms than in the Hong Kong style and a more pre­cise way of hold­ing the head, he said.

Han­nah O’Neill, New Zealand

The mo­ment she'll never for­get was see­ing a video of the bal­let Cin­derella star­ring Ru­dolf Nureyev, the leg­endary Rus­sian dancer who led the Paris Opera bal­let troupe, and star Paris dancers Sylvie Guillem and Charles Jude.

“From that mo­ment on, for me, Paris Opera was bal­let,” said Han­nah O'Neill, now a first dancer, one step away from ‘etoile’.

Born in Tokyo, the daugh­ter of an ex-rugby player from New Zealand and a Ja­panese mother, the 26 year old in­her­ited a strong physique and love of dance.

She later moved to Auck­land and trained un­der Marilyn Rowe, who had worked with Nureyev.

At 14, she suf­fered a set­back by fail­ing the ex­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tion for a place at the Paris school. In­stead, she joined the Aus­tralian Bal­let School in Mel­bourne and won the Prix de Lausanne and Youth Amer­ica Grand Prix.

But she never gave up on her dream and was ac­cepted by the Paris Opera at 18, ar­riv­ing in the city with­out a word of French.

She got her big break when Ben­jamin Millepied, head of dance from 2015 to 2016 who called for more di­ver­sity in the com­pany, gave her the ti­tle role in Swan Lake. "I moved up ev­ery year," she said. "I com­pletely con­sider my­self as a French dancer in terms of style.

“It is the way I want to move, the way I want to dance. I feel I found my place.”

My teacher told me ‘you don’t re­ally have a chance’, so I said I am go­ing to take my chance

Bianca Scu­d­amore

Dancers from else­where have in re­cent years been ac­cepted into the Paris Opera Bal­let’s hi­er­ar­chi­cal ranks

Sae-Eun Park from South Korea says she has learnt a lot

Aus­tralia’s Bianca Scu­d­amore joined the com­pany as a 14 year old

Han­nah O'Neill from New Zealand is just one step away from ‘etoile’

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