After a chaotic year, the little Opera rats try to keep their balance


Cancellation of shows, postponement of exams … the students of the Paris Opera Dance School had to overcome their disappointments this year while preserving their pace of work.

“Raised time, slipping, leaning, assembled, diverted!” At the Paris Opera dance school, Wilfried Romoli spares his class of boys in the last year who want to “be ready” for their future careers, despite a year marked by turbulence. Between strikes and coronavirus, the famous “little rats” of the Opera have seen since December their shows at the Palais Garnier canceled, their bodies confined then their exams postponed, including that, crucial, of the entrance examination to the Opera Ballet of Paris, the Grail for the residents of this 300-year-old institution.

Accepting disappointments one after the other, the first division, the last class of this elite education, however emerged with more maturity and for some the right to a second chance. “I quickly realized that a generation could be sacrificed a little”, affirms to AFP Elisabeth Platel, director of the School and “guardian” French style of classical dance. “So I offered all these students, if they were not taken to Ballet, an additional year”, adds this legendary former star dancer.

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The older students will not find Garnier until the end of the year, for the traditional Dance Demonstrations (December 6-13-19). For one year, “the whole school was not confronted with public scrutiny, stage fright”, recalls Elisabeth Platel. The little rats resumed lessons in June, just before the summer holidays: of the 150, 130 returned; certain foreigners, from Canada or Australia, having been stranded at home.

The boarding school has reopened, but with one student per room instead of three, the folk dance, mime and pas de deux lessons have been suspended, the studios regularly ventilated, the bars disinfected and the wearing of a mandatory mask when traveling . In the last years, Rubens, 18, tries towers in the air and big throws. Wounded in the ankle before confinement, he resumed dancing at home, practically “from scratch”. “It was a bit like imprisonment but it allowed me to be so careful (that) I managed to increase the quality of my work.”

Margaux of the first girls division was scared “to fall behind” during confinement. “It was hard, but you learn to work alone”. Courses via Zoom were organized quickly, with individual follow-ups. But for many, the conditions were rudimentary, with a window or a chair in the middle of the living room as a bar.

“We had to motivate them”, admits Wilfried Romoli. But some returned changed in June: they “understood three times faster”, others have “taken of maturity”. If the professors showed kindness during confinement, rigor took over in the studio. “They have to understand that they have to go up (the slope), it’s really their future”, assures the professor who however took care to ask them to stop at the slightest pain.

In this institution renowned for its demands and traditions, the crisis has also brought “little rats” and teachers together. “We had a special contact”, confirms Géraldine Wiart, teacher of the youngest children, who monitored their work via videos. “Do you have aches?”, she inquires in front of the pupils of the 6th division in sky blue leotards, noting that the smallest find “very quickly the form”.

For each pupil, evaluation commissions will determine whether the pupil will repeat a year or if he will pass to a higher class. Elisabeth Platel prepares for the start of the school year “in caution”. “The momentum has been maintained; they are children who really want to dance”said the director. But after the pandemic, “I am worried about the future of our profession … is this a shift?”. The ex-star wants above all to prepare his little rats for a new reality and “make them understand the fragility of their profession”.

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