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When French President Emmanuel Macron proposed widespread pension reforms in December, the repercussions were felt almost immediately throughout France. In Paris, protests reverberated through the city. Metro trains halted, the Eiffel Tower was shut down, schools closed, and, at the Paris Opéra Ballet, dancers, singers, artisans and technicians went on strike.

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News
Silvia Saint-Martin dancing her free variation from Jerome Robbin's Other Dances. The dancer competed against seven of her peers to earn the one coveted opening for a première danseuse. Photo by Svetlana Loboff, Courtesy Paris Opéra Ballet.

Dancing with the Paris Opéra Ballet normally entails performing to sold out crowds and admirers from around the world. But imagine dancers attempting to give their best performance in an opera house that's eerily quiet and closed to the public. That's what happened on November 6 and 8 when dancers competed in front of a jury, with only a handful of colleagues and journalists in attendance. Welcome to POB's annual "concours de promotion," or competitive promotional exam. In a company that employs 154 dancers, it is the only way to climb the ranks.

Outsiders are often baffled by this system because it is so different from how other companies promote their dancers. This year, Pointe was invited to take an inside look at this high-stakes event and spoke with two of the 14 dancers awarded promotions that go into effect in January 2020.

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Ballet Training
Hortense Millet-Maurin (third from left) and her classmates perform August Bournonville's La Conservatoire. Svetlana Loboff, Courtesy POB.

As a little girl, Hortense Millet-Maurin fell in love with the wide spiral staircase that dominates the center of the Paris Opéra Ballet School. Today, as a focused 15-year-old POB student, she and her classmate Vincent Vivet navigate the school's spacious architecture on a daily basis. In a hallway strewn with foam rollers and tennis balls, their faces are laced with concentration as they prepare alongside their peers for afternoon ballet class. Color-coded uniforms reflect Vivet's and Millet-Maurin's third division; with only two advanced divisions remaining, they are increasingly close to realizing their professional aspirations: joining the Paris Opéra Ballet. Pointe spoke with these two young dancers to see what it's like studying inside the world's oldest ballet academy.

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Ballet Stars

Noëlla Pontois, the striking, lithe and fiercely technical former étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, was renown for her interpretation of aristocratic roles in 19th-century ballets. In this 1983 performance from Rudolf Nureyev's production of Raymonda, Pontois is at her most imperious and entrancing in the title role's wedding variation.

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Members of the Paris Opéra Ballet give a surprise performance on an Air France flight from Shanghai to Paris. Courtesy Air France.

Just imagine: you're settling in for a long international flight, when suddenly Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake starts playing on the intercom—and a group of feather-clad ballerinas bourrée down the aisle. That's exactly what happened last week to Air France customers on a Paris-bound flight from Shanghai, when 10 members of the Paris Opéra Ballet gave a impromptu performance throughout the plane's cabins.

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Ballet Stars

Fairies crop up everywhere in classical ballet, from sylphs to dryads to, of course, the ranks of fairies who attend Aurora's christening in The Sleeping Beauty. These delicate and mystical creatures stretch the reaches of ballet technique, forcing dancers to embody an otherworldly ideal. In this 1999 clip from the Paris Opéra Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty, former étoile Marie-Agnès Gillot dances the luxurious Lilac Fairy variation. With her refined, gentle power, Gillot truly finds the sublime in her interpretation of this magical character.

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Ballet Stars

From the outside, classical ballet can seem restrictive with its decorum, elaborate costumes and, of course, uncomfortable pointe shoes. Yet as ballet dancers we know that our technique actually allows our bodies to move with incredible freedom. That physical freedom is never more apparent than in watching dancers like Sylvie Guillem and Massimo Murru, both of whom danced with historic ballet companies, take on contemporary masterpieces like Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort. Stripped down to the barest costumes, their musculature and sheer physicality are unencumbered and demand awe.

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Sergei Polunin, whose recent homophobic and sexist Instagram posts have sparked international outrage, will not be appearing with the Paris Opéra Ballet as previously announced.

POB artistic director Aurélie Dupont sent an internal email to company staff and dancers on Sunday, explaining that she did not share Polunin's values and that the Russian-based dancer would not be guesting with the company during the upcoming run of Rudolf Nureyev's Swan Lake in February.

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Site Network

If you follow Sergei Polunin on Instagram, you've probably noticed that lately something has been...off.

Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:

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Viral Videos

The ballet Don Quixote offers its principal ballerina the unique chance to play two different characters in one role: there's Kitri herself, a vivacious village girl, and then Dulcinea, Don Quixote's idealized love, who takes on the form of Kitri in his dream. The Paris Opéra Ballet's Aurélie Dupont, a former étoile and now the company's artistic director, creates distinct personas for each incarnation of her character. In this clip from a 2002 performance, Dupont dances Dulcinea's variation with serene precision, embodying the mystical beauty of Don Quixote's imagination.

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San Francisco Ballet in class during World Ballet Day 2016. Photo Courtesy SFB.

Here at Pointe, every day feels like World Ballet Day, though the official 2018 event took place on Tuesday. While WBD is a thrill for any bunhead, it can also be overwhelming. How are you supposed to sit in front of your computer all day when you have class and rehearsal and work and a life? We get it, and we're here to help.

To give you a chance to catch up, we've rounded up WBD videos from 26 companies. So grab some popcorn, a backlog of pointe shoes to sew, and settle in. If you start watching now, you might just be done in time for WBD 2019.

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Varna IBC competitor Antonio Gameiro Casalinho. Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, Courtesy Varna IBC.

Every two years, dancers from all over the world head to the Bulgarian coastal city of Varna to try their luck at the Varna International Ballet competition. Established in 1964, the competition famously takes place at a leafy outdoor theater near the Black Sea, and its roster of past winners (Sylvie Guillem, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova) reads like a who's who of dance history.

This year's IBC, which took place July 15–30, brought together 120 dancers from 34 countries. After the third and final round, the winners were announced over the weekend. Yuan Zhe Zi (Jessica) Xuan, a grand sujet at Dutch National Ballet, won first place in the senior women's category. Sinuo Chang of China took first in the senior men's, while his partner, Siyi Li, placed first in the junior women's category. A few familiar faces from the competition circuit also made the list. Antonio Casolinho, a student at the Academy of Ballet and Dance in Portugal and this year's Junior Grand Prix winner at Youth America Grand Prix, took home the Special Distinction Award, Varna's top prize for juniors. Katherine Barkman, a principal guest artist with Ballet Manila, placed second in the senior women's category, fresh off her silver medal win at June's USA IBC in Jackson.

Read on to see the full list of prizewinners, then head to Varna IBC's Facebook page to catch videos of the competition. Congratulations to all!

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