After making his debut at the Opéra Russe in Paris in 1936, Raymond Franchetti pursued a career as a soloist which led him to the Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas (1946-1947), and then the Paris Opera where he became a Premier danseur in 1954. A teacher at the Ballet School from 1963 onwards, he became executive dance director in 1971 then first Director of Dance at the Paris Opera in 1972, a post he would hold until 1977.
The creation of the post of Director of Dance at the Paris Opera was a response to the changing functions of the ballet master following the departure of Serge Lifar in 1956: no longer the official choreographer for the Ballet, Lifar invited choreographers to create works for the Company. In 1972, the Ballet thus endowed itself with a real artistic director to whom all programming, from revivals to first productions was entrusted. As a result, the ballet master became a tutor, ensuring that the work was executed in accordance with the wishes of the choreographer (thus playing a key role in the transmission of the repertoire). From that point on, Étoiles would be nominated by the Director of Dance and named by the Director of the Opera.
Like others before her, Ghislaine Thesmar joined the Ballet when she was made an Étoile after her performance in La Sylphide.
In 1972, Carolyn Carlson, the heir of modern American dance, was engaged as an Étoile-choreographer by Rolf Liebermann to establish the GRTOP (the Paris Opera Theatre research group) a unit she would lead until 1980. Her appointment came at the end of the debut performance of Densité 21,5 which was her first invitation to the Paris Opera.
In a rare occurrence, Dominique Khalfouni, only a Sujet, was made an Étoile after a single performance of Swan Lake in which she performed the dual role of Odile-Odette: As a result, she was never a Première dancer.
Trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School, Violette Verdy made her début at Roland Petit and Janine Charrat’s Ballets des Champs-Élysées. After a career as a soloist during which she spent eight years at New York City Ballet (1958-1976), occasionally performing with other American and German troupes, she became the Paris Opera’s Director of Dance in 1977.
Engaged by the Paris Opera Ballet in 1967, Florence Clerc was picked for the lead role of Giselle in 1977—a role for which she was made an Étoile.
Rosella Hightower, a former soloist at New York City Ballet and the Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas was Director of Dance of the Paris Opera between 1981 and 1983: among others, she discovered Patrick Dupont who in turn would take over as Director of Dance in 1990.
In 2004, at the end of her career as a dancer, Élisabeth Platel, who was made an Étoile in 1981 whilst appearing in Giselle, took over as head of the Paris Opera Ballet School, a post she still occupies this day.
In an event unique in the history of the Paris Opera, Françoise Legrée was made an Étoile dancer live on television during Jacques Chancel’s popular TV programme Le Grand Échiquier.
In exile since 1961, Rudolf Nureyev, the internationally renowned Russian soloist became Director of Dance in 1983: Whilst leading the Ballet, he performed the greatest roles in the repertoire and put the focus on the most talented of the young dancers: Sylvie Guillem, Isabelle Guérin, Laurent Hilaire, Manuel Legris, Élisabeth Maurin, Kader Belarbi, and Marie-Claude Pietragalla.
Noticed early on by Claude Bessy during an admission traineeship for the Ballet School, Sylvie Guillem quickly climbed the ranks to become an Étoile in her first Swan Lake, a mere five days after being promoted to the rank of Première dancer. She was just 19 years old.
Isabelle Guérin and Laurent Hilaire were made Étoiles on the same evening at the end of a performance of Swan Lake.
Like Dominique Khalfouni, Manuel Legris, Laurent Hilaire and Mathieu Ganio became Étoiles whilst they were Sujets.
Although nominations are generally made on the stage of the Palais Garnier or the Opéra Bastille, they can also be announced on tours: This was the case for Manuel Legris who was made an Étoile at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1986.
A former pupil of the Ballet School and an Étoile of the Ballet since being named by Rosella Hightower in 1980, Patrick Dupond took over as Director of Dance of the Paris Opera in 1990 after garnering initial experience in the job at the Ballet français in Nancy.
Marie-Claude Pietragalla was made an Étoile for her first interpretation of the role of Kitri in Don Quixote.
In a unique event in 1993, Fanny Gaïda, Carole Arbo and Nicolas Le Riche were all made Étoile dancers on the same evening at the end of a performance of Giselle during a tour of the Ballet to the Nîmes Opera.
Initially made assistant director of the Paris Opera in 1994, Brigitte Lefèvre, a former pupil of the Opera’s Ballet School, became Director of Dance in 1995: she made it her mission to build a living repertoire which would balance the traditions of the great classical ballets, the works that marked the 20th century and contemporary creation, inviting numerous choreographers from France and abroad.
Agnès Letestu was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Swan Lake.
Aurélie Dupont was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quichotte.
Most dancers become Étoiles after performing a major role in a “classical" ballet: Rudolf Nureyev’s Swan Lake, Don Quixotte, and La Bayadère, or Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot’s Giselle
Laetitia Pujol was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quichotte in which she had danced the role of Kitri for the first time.
Originally confidential, and announced with curtain closed, nominations have been made in public since 2004.
If nominations are often made at the end of one of the great ballets of the repertoire, it is becoming increasingly common for the dancers to be named after performing a role in a contemporary work: Carolyn Carlson and Olivier Debré’s Signes for Marie-Agnès Gillot and Susanne Linke’s Ich bin for Wilfried Romoli.
Mathieu Ganio was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quichotte.
There is no specific age governing when a dancer may become an Étoile: some, like Wilfried Romoli or Delphine Moussin, were made Étoiles just a few years prior to their retirement.
Like Manuel Legris, Benjamin Pech became an Étoile whilst on tour: at Beijing’s Grand Theatre in 2005. That evening, he had successively performed the roles of Albrecht in Giselle and Frédéri in Roland Petit’s L'Arlesienne.
The number of Étoiles is limited and determined by the Opera’s budget. If the Ballet had four Étoiles in 1941, ten in 1950, and fifteen in 1995, it today has a total of eighteen: Eleonora Abbagnato, Émilie Cozette, Aurélie Dupont, Dorothée Gilbert, Marie-Agnès Gillot, Myriam Ould-Braham, Ludmila Pagliero, Laëtitia Pujol, Alice Renavand, Jérémie Bélingard, Stéphane Bullion, Mathieu Ganio, Mathias Heymann, Josua Hoffalt, Nicolas Le Riche, Hervé Moreau, Karl Paquette, and Benjamin Pech.
Hervé Moreau was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s La Bayadère in which he had performed the role of Solor for the first time.
Jérémie Bélingard was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quichotte.
Émilie Cozette was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Cinderella.
Dorothée Gilbert was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Nutcracker after performing the role of Clara which she was dancing for the first time.
In 2009, Isabelle Ciaravola and Mathias Heymann were named the same evening by Gerard Mortier and Brigitte Lefèvre at the end of a performance of John Cranko’s Onéguine.
Karl Paquette was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Nutcracker.
The Étoiles’ special status means that they are not subject to the Paris Opera’s pay scales. As such, they negotiate their contract directly with the Dance Department.
Stéphane Bullion and Josua Hoffalt were both made Étoiles at the end of a performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s La Bayadère in 2010 and 2012.
In 2012, for the first time, the nomination of an Étoile was screened live in over 200 cinemas worldwide: the nominee was Ludmila Pagliero, who had just finished a performance of Rudolph Nureyev’s La Bayadère in which she had performed the role of Gamzatti.
Myriam Ould Braham was made an Étoile at the end of a performance of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée in which she performed the role of Lise.
Recently, two dancers became Étoiles, reflecting the vitality of the title: Eleonora Abbagnato, was named at the end of a performance of Roland Petit’s Carmen, and Alice Renavand, was named after a performance of Le Parc in which she had performed the female lead role for the first time.
Amandine Albisson a été nommée Danseuse Étoile de l’Opéra national de Paris le mercredi 5 mars 2014 à l'issue de la représentation du ballet Onéguine (John Cranko) dans lequel elle interprétait le rôle de ‘Tatiana’ aux côtés de Josua Hoffalt, Danseur Etoile, sur la scène du Palais Garnier.
Sur la proposition de Benjamin Millepied, Directeur de la Danse, Stéphane Lissner, Directeur de l’Opéra national de Paris, a nommé Laura Hecquet, Danseuse Étoile de l’Opéra national de Paris, à l'issue de la représentation du ballet Le Lac des cygnes(Rudolf Noureev) dans lequel elle interprétait le rôle de ‘Odette/Odile’ sur la scène de l’Opéra Bastille, le lundi 23 mars 2015.
Germain Louvet, nommé danseur Étoile à l'issu de la représentation du ballet Le Lac des cygnes dans lequel il interprétait le rôle du Prince Siegfried sur la scène de l’Opéra Bastille le 28 décembre 2016. (Il dansait aux côtés de Ludmila Pagliero)
Léonore Baulac, nommée danseuse Étoile à l'issu de la représentation du ballet Le Lac des cygnes dans lequel elle interprétait le rôle d’Odette/Odile sur la scène de l’Opéra Bastille le 31 décembre 2016. (Elle dansait aux côtés de Mathias Heymann)
Hugo Marchand, nommé danseur Étoile à l’issue de la représentation du ballet La Sylphide (Pierre Lacotte) dans lequel il interprétait le rôle de ‘James’ sur la scène Bunka Kaikan de Tokyo (Japon), le 3 mars 2017.
Valentine Colasante, nommée danseuse Étoile à l’issue de la représentation du ballet Don Quichotte (Rudolf Noureev) dans lequel elle interprétait le rôle de ‘Kitri’, le 5 janvier 2018.