First black Etoile dancer in Paris Opera

First black Etoile dancer in Paris Opera

First black Etoile dancer in Paris Opera

The Paris Opera on March 11 appointed 23-year old dancer Guillaume Diop to its Etoile category, the first time a black person has received the ballet’s coveted top rank.

The promotion, announced on stage at the end of Diop’s performance of “Giselle” in Seoul, propels him to the ballet’s highest rank without having to go through the “Premiere” category for several years as is usually the case.

The “Danseur Etoile” (“Star Dancer”) rank is given for rare excellence, and only a handful of dancers of made it there directly in the past 50 years.

Diop, who was born in Paris to a Senegalese father and a French mother, was among five black or mixed-race authors who in 2020 published a manifesto “About the Race Question in Opera.”

Since starting at the Paris Opera in 2018, Diop has danced in several Etoile roles, with lead performances in La Bayadere, Don Quixote, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” Diop told the Le Figaro newspaper.

“I hope that this reassures the parents of kids like me who want to follow this career path, but I’m not sure I want to talk about this. I basically worked like everybody else.”

Jose Martinez, the Paris Opera Ballet’s dance director, told the paper that Diop’s “artistic qualities, his charisma and his potential” had been the reasons for his choice.

“At no point did it cross my mind to appoint him because of the colour of his skin,” Martinez said, adding: “It’s a very good thing that this has happened.”