Awa Joannais (front row, second dancer from left), seen here in La Bayadère, is one of the Paris Opéra Ballet's few Black dancers.

Svetlana Loboff, Courtesy Paris Opéra Ballet

The Paris Opéra's Diversity Report Proposes Steps Towards a More Inclusive Company

Five years after Benjamin Millepied was met with fierce resistance for bringing up racist practices within the Paris Opéra Ballet, the French company is finally acknowledging its lack of diversity. This week, the Paris Opéra released an official report with recommendations, commissioned in the wake of last summer's racial reckoning and increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

At the time, the worldwide push for social justice encouraged a group of Black and Asian employees, led by the Paris Opéra Ballet's five Black dancers, to write a manifesto demanding change. Among the issues they raised were the continued use of the French n-word, a lack of tights and cosmetics for darker skin tones, and the absence of an effective anti-discrimination policy. The Paris Opéra's new general director, Alexander Neef, who arrived in September from the Canadian Opera Company, lost no time in offering support, and appointed the historian Pap Ndiaye and the civil servant Constance Rivière to lead an independent audit.

Their 66-page report, based on interviews with nearly 100 people both inside and outside the Paris Opéra, is at once measured and unequivocal. In the report, the Paris Opéra is described as "mostly a white world far removed from contemporary French society," with artists, management, board members and donors who remain overwhelmingly un-diverse. (No actual data is available, as racial statistics are strongly discouraged in France.)

Some of the report's 19 recommendations will strike observers outside France as common sense in 2021. Eliminating blackface, brownface and yellowface from the repertoire, or "opening choreographic commissions to diverse choreographers," are hardly radical moves at this point, and the Paris Opéra Ballet should arguably have committed to them a long time ago. Ndiaye and Rivière do insist on the need for more creations rooted in the classical technique, a longtime gripe of many POB aficionados, as the company tends to look to contemporary and hip-hop dancemakers to signal its openness.

\u200bLetizia Galloni, a light-skinned Black woman, balances in pass\u00e9 derri\u00e8re on pointe while smiling at her partner, Mathias Heymann, a white male with dark hair. He stands behind her in tendu, his hand on her waist.

Letizia Galloni and Mathias Heymann in La Fille mal gardée

Benoite Fanton, Courtesy Paris Opéra Ballet

POB also took action on some basic demands before the report was even released: A wider range of makeup and hair products was recently introduced (in the past Black dancers had to bring their own products), and in late January, for the first time, Black corps members wore tights that matched their skin tones during a livestream of the annual Défilé.

Other recommendations go much further. The suggestion that POB "reach out to high-level non-white artists in France and abroad to hire them into the corps de ballet," in order to "create role models," will likely be controversial within the company, as it has consistently refused to change its entrance competition system and allow for direct recruitment. Additionally, Ndiaye and Rivière focus much of their attention on the Paris Opéra Ballet School, described as "very homogeneous," with regards to its teaching staff and the very few minority children. They advocate for reform of the admittance process.

At present, the school essentially waits for students to come to it; instead, the report's authors say that it should be "more open to the outside world," step up outreach efforts, rethink its stringent physical criteria and organize auditions all around the country as well as in French overseas territories. A clash looks inevitable with the current school director, Élisabeth Platel. She has long insisted that the school is doing enough and isn't elitist because tuition is free, and recently defended the use of white face powder on Black dancers.

Platel isn't alone in France: The Paris Opéra's newfound interest in becoming an inclusive workplace has already sparked a political war of words. Renewed demands for antiracist action in the country since last summer have been derided by conservative thinkers as American-style divisiveness, and incompatible with France's universalist model, which hinges on a colorblind ideal. In December, the far-right politician Marine Le Pen seized on the Paris Opéra's efforts to accuse Neef of "antiracism gone crazy" and "obscurantism." (POB étoile Germain Louvet rightly pointed out that the Swan Lake video Le Pen tweeted wasn't even a company production. It actually starred the Bolshoi's Svetlana Zakharova and La Scala's Roberto Bolle in Milan.)

Even within the Paris Opéra, proactive, long-term support for this diversity drive is far from guaranteed. According to the newspaper Le Monde, less than 300 Paris Opéra employees, out of roughly 1,500, signed the manifesto last summer; some have even made their reluctance clear on social media.

Many of the recommendations—which include employee training, the appointment of a diversity officer, the creation of a committee of experts and greater contextualization of the repertoire for the audience—will also require significant financial investment, at the worst possible time. Despite a €61 million pandemic rescue package from the French state, the Paris Opéra anticipates additional losses of €29 million through the end of the 2022 fiscal year, as theaters are currently shut for the foreseeable future.

Millepied found out during his tenure just how slow POB can be to change. His successor as ballet director, Aurélie Dupont, expressed support, but Neef is clearly taking the lead and has remained steadfast in the face of criticism. Now the hard work begins: changing minds and ingrained habits, day by day, even as the news cycle moves on.

Latest Posts

Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

Why Planning Summer Study This Year Is More Complicated Than Ever

When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

Between vaccines and variants, can students aim for a full calendar of intensive training at local and national summer programs?

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

Check Out These 2021 Summer Intensives Especially for Adults

After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.


Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.


Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.


Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.


Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish


artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.


Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.


Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.


Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.


May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion


The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

10 Online Ballet Performances to Catch in April

Spring is in full bloom with another round of exciting digital dance offerings. This month, companies across the country are releasing world premieres, season finales, artistic collaborations and more. We've rounded up some highlights below.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks