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Paris Opera Ballet announces its first Black 'etoile' in Seoul

March 13, 2023 - 14:48 By Hwang Dong-hee
Guillaume Diop performs Albrecht in "Giselle" in Seoul on Saturday. (LG Arts Center)
Guillaume Diop performs Albrecht in "Giselle" in Seoul on Saturday. (LG Arts Center)

The Paris Opera Ballet has appointed Guillaume Diop to its highest “etoile” title, marking the first time a black dancer has reached the top rank of honor reserved for just a handful of dancers in the company's 354-year history.

"In the life of the dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet, there is a rare and collective moment which we share with the public at the end of the performance,” said director Jose Martinez in making the announcement on stage after Diop’s performance as the lead in “Giselle” at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, on Saturday afternoon.

“It is the realization of a dream -- the nomination of a star dancer. I have the greatest pleasure of appointing Guillaume Diop as star dancer,” Martinez said, adding that the promotion was made in agreement with Alexander Neef, director general of the Paris Opera Ballet.

The 23-year-old dancer joined the Korea tour as Albrecht when the troupe's etoile dancer Hugo Marchand sustained an injury before the company departed for Korea.

Guillaume Diop attends a press conference held at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, March 7. (Yonhap)

Diop, born in Paris to a Senegalese father and a French mother, joined the Paris Opera Ballet in 2018. Since then, he has danced in several etoile roles with lead performances in “Don Quixote,” “La Bayadere” and “Romeo and Juliet.” He was promoted to “sujet,” or a soloist, in November 2022.

He achieved the top rank without having gone through the “premiere dancer” stage for several years as is usually the case.

“(It is) hard to find the words to match the emotion I feel,” said Diop on his Instagram after the announcement. “Thank you Martinez and Neef from the bottom of my heart for the trust you placed in me. … A big thank you to my partners and especially (Dorothee) Gilbert with whom I experienced this magical moment.”

“Now, I go back to the bar to work, again and always,” he said.

During the press conference held in Seoul on March 7 ahead of the four-day performance, Martinez introduced Diop as an outstanding young dancer who will lead the future of the ballet company.

“Both (Diop and Kang Ho-hyun) are ‘sujets,’ but they will work hard and soon become ‘etoiles.’ … (Diop) is a dancer who well embodies French ballet,” Martinez said.

There are currently 18 "etoiles" at the world-renowned company including Korean dancer Park Sae-eun, who became the first Asian person to be given the title in 2021.