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POB hierarchy question


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#1 Naoko S

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Posted 17 January 2004 - 07:56 AM

Hi - I wondered if someone could enlighten me on something....

What's the definition of "Etoile" at POB? My Oxford Dance Dictionary puts it bluntly as: "The highest rank of dancer at Paris Opera." I have long thought POB's Etoiles are dancers who reign on top of the hierarchy but have added-value to being "Principal Dancer" and therefore are above them. I also seem to remember having read somewhere that "Etoile" was an honourary title, rather than a rank (thus they are nominated by Director; no audition).

The reason my asking this question is - whilst discussing a prospect of next Etoile-hopefuls in a Japanese ballet fan site someone pointed out currently there's a post available for Etoile, which I found rather odd - if my memory is correct and Etoile were honourary title, there should be no such thing as fixed posts? Or maybe I've been totally wrong and Etoile are equivalent to "Principal Dancer" for other companies (like Mariinsky; Royal Ballet). I've referred to my French-Japanese dictionary but it's only made things tangled - it translates "premiere danseuse" as "prima ballerina"!

(My apologies in advance if this is an utterly pointless question......)

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 17 January 2004 - 08:20 AM

No, it's a good question. Etoile is "Star!" It's rather like the old title of "prima ballerina assoluta" from the Imperial era of Russian ballet. (There were only two of them, ever!) There is an additional stipend attached to the title, and it is a regular part of the highly stratified structure of the Paris Opèra Ballet. For a company to advertise for a star is rather overreaching, unless they intend to make the position of interest to the very top layer of international ballet talent.

#3 Estelle

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Posted 17 January 2004 - 04:41 PM

Naoko- it's a complicated question indeed. There are five levels in the POB hierarchy: quadrilles, coryphées, sujets, premiers danseurs and étoiles. Actually the full name for the "étoiles" is "premier danseur étoile" (or "première danseuse étoile"), it exists only since the 1940s (but the hierarchy varied quite a lot, for example until the 1960s there were two categories of quadrilles- premiers quadrilles and second quadrilles- and two categories of sujets- petits sujets and grands sujets...) but I think that now it's an "official" level of the hierarchy.

It's true that the étoiles are promoted directly by the director (actually by the director of the Paris Opera, for example now it's Hugues Gall, but usually on a suggestion of the Director of Dance, now Brigitte Lefèvre), unlike all the other categories which depend on the annual competition. And there have been some examples of dancers promoted to étoile who were just sujets (for example Laurent Hilaire, Manuel Legris and Isabelle Guérin), or even just coryphée (someone in the 1940s, I don't remember exactly whom, perhaps Michel Renault)- but it's rather unusual, and usually people have to become premiers danseurs first.

Their contract is different from those of the other categories: all the dancers in the other categories are in a fixed salary scale (depending on the category, on how long they've been in the company) fixed by the State, plus some extra money depending on how much they perform and of the rehearsal time, while the étoiles sign a special contract every year which might be different for each of them.

Also (I think it's not a written rule, just an implicit one) the étoiles always perform "big" roles, while the premiers danseurs and premières danseuses also perform some less prestigious ones (e.g. Bluebird pas de deux in "Sleeping Beauty", Hilarion in "Giselle"...)

The question of the "available posts" is very complicated, and I haven't really understood how it works yet! I've been told that the total number of étoiles+premiers danseurs is fixed, but in fact it tends to vary a little bit as it might take some time after a retirement before somebody is promoted. And the number of étoiles itself can vary quite a lot, in recent years it has been especially low, partly because of a deliberate decision of the direction to have a low number of étoiles, partly perhaps because of a lack of dancers to promote (though there's much disagreement about it :)) For example now there are only 5 female étoiles (by ordrer of seniority: Maurin, Letestu, Dupont, Pujol, Osta), which really isn't much for such a large company, while there have been some periods in the 1990s
with 8 étoiles (e.g. Platel, Legrée, Loudières, Guérin, Maurin, Pietragalla, Arbo, Gaïda), on the other hand the number of premiers danseurs and premières danseuses has increased quite a lot. I guess that given how difficult it is to become a premier danseur or première danseuse, they could be considered as "principals", but in general people tend to translate "étoile" as principal (and premier danseur becomes something like "first soloist").

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 17 January 2004 - 07:28 PM

There are eleven étoile positions now, aren't there, Estelle?

Aurélie Dupont
Agnès Letestu
Elisabeth Maurin
Clairemarie Osta
Laëtitia Pujol



Jean-Guillaume Bart
Kader Belarbi
Laurent Hilaire
Manuel Legris
Nicolas Le Riche
José Martinez

#5 cygneblanc

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 02:45 AM

Mr Johnson, there are 12 etoiles in the compagny, and there is a position available, because the directors haven't promoted someone to that position yet.

#6 Françoise

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 04:42 AM

Estelle, I suppose you want to say Sylvie Guillem :) , because Isabelle Guérin was première danseuse when she was promoted Etoile (after Bourmeister' Swan Lake performance), she replaced Sylvie Guillem in her post of premiere danseuse, because Guillem was nominated Etoile before she is officially a premiere danseuse and the place was free :rolleyes: !

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 05:26 AM

Quick, somebody call Maurice Béjart - he'll fill those étoile vacancies, whether you want them filled or not! :)

#8 Naoko S

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 09:41 AM

Thanks all for your views/thoughts!

Cygneblanc - can I interpret your comment as: There are allocated number of posts for étoiles (6 for female & male respectively), and currently there's one post available for a female dancer?

Estelle - many thanks for taking time to put this. Your comments are so interesting and educational that I'd like to put a link in the Japanese site to this thread (hope you won't mind!). Now it's more clearer to me that étoile is robustly built into the company's hierarchy and is a formal rank. Given that they work on contract basis I presume they are given more freedom than other dancers of different ranks, for instance on choice of roles and guest-appearance outside the company? I once read Agnes Letestu's interview in a Japanese dance magazine which took place immediately after her nomination to étoile. Asked by the interviewer how she saw the future would fold for her, she commented that first and foremost her relationship with the company's management should change as being étoile meant you were finally given a right to dispute/challenge them - on choice of roles, etc. I wonder whether this relationship between top dancers and management is unique to POB or rather common among highly aclaimed ballet companies.

One other point - although I concur with your views that "in general people tend to translate "étoile" as principal (and premier danseur becomes something like "first soloist")." - when you look at realities, I'd resist to accept the definition that POB's premier danseur may be called "First Soloist" elsewhere. In general terms, it appears to me some of POB's premier danseurs take on more principal roles and responsibilities attached to it than first soloists of other companies. (Incidentally when I say "other" companies what I have in mind are Mariinsky & Royal Ballet, two of the companies I'm most familiar with.) Maybe I'd better forget a mere comparison of hierarchy/strucuture of POB with other companies, which seems rather useless.........

#9 cygneblanc

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 11:19 AM

Yes Naoko, your interpretation of my comment is the right one :blushing:

#10 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 12:34 PM

"People had confidence in me and I was invited abroad. When I was nominated étoile they were surprised to find out I wasn’t an étoile yet. For them it wasn’t important. After all they had seen me dance and had invited me on the strength of that, not because I had (or in this case didn’t have yet) the title of étoile of the Paris Opera. There is often a confusion abroad. When I mentioned “première danseuse” in my CV, it was translated as “principal dancer”."

(Taken from my interview with Agnès Letestu, Dance View, Summer 2002).

#11 Naoko S

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 03:22 PM

Cygneblanc - thanks for a confirmation!

Mark - thanks for the link. Looks like you did interview with quite a few of POB étoiles - I've wondered if the one with Laurent Hilaire is in the pipeline? :blushing:

#12 Estelle

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 04:44 AM

Estelle, I suppose you want to say Sylvie Guillem :blushing: , because Isabelle Guérin was première danseuse when she was promoted Etoile (after Bourmeister' Swan Lake performance), she replaced Sylvie Guillem in her post of premiere danseuse, because Guillem was nominated Etoile before she is officially a premiere danseuse and the place was free  :rolleyes:  !

Thanks for the correction- actually I had forgotten that Guérin actually was a premiere danseuse before being promoted to étoile (perhaps a confusion because Hilaire, who still was a sujet, was promoted at the same moment as Guérin).

cygneblanc, do you know if there is any official text about the number of étoiles in the company? Actually it's quite a headache to try to understand all that, and I'm pretty sure that there were some periods when the total number of principals was above 12...

Naoko, you wrote: "she commented that first and foremost her relationship with the company's management should change as being étoile meant you were finally given a right to dispute/challenge them - on choice of roles, etc."

Yes, I think that the étoiles are a bit more "powerful" than the premiers danseurs- for example they only dance "big roles", and also in general when there are some etoiles and some premiers danseurs cast in the same role, it's always an étoile who dances the premiere.

About the "first soloists/ premiers danseurs": yes, premier danseur is a rather complicated position, and it might also depends on the direction's policy: some of them can be almost like "étoiles without the title", dancing all the big roles, while some others aren't cast much (and it can change depending on the season). But I'm not that much familiar with the hierarchy of other companies (and there's also the fact that the POB is quite larger than, for example, the Royal Ballet, which probably has an influence on the casting policies).

#13 cygneblanc

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 07:48 AM

Well, Estelle, your question is a very difficult one :rolleyes:
The pob is governed by an official text : it is the decree 94-111 of february 5th, 1994. You can read it at www.legifrance.gouv.fr

I haven't found something on that text so I guess it's a question of financial law, and I'm very far from being an expert on that matter.

Well, I think you're right when you're saying there were some periods when the total number of principals was above 12 but I think they "played " with the law during these periods ! :P


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