Paris ballet’s foreign legion reaches for the stars

PARIS (AFP) – 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, where a cosmopolitan generation of young dancers are making names for themselves.

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.

Australian ballet dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet Bianca Scudamore during a photo session in Paris. PHOTO: AFP

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.