Raising the Barre

Paris Opera's youngest new étoile.

For French ballerina Laëtitia Pujol, dance was not love at first sight. In fact, at age eight she only continued practicing her pliés because her ballet school also offered theater classes. "Once I saw that one could easily combine dance and drama, I knew this was what I wanted to do," says the 27-year-old, who was recently named one of just five female étoiles (principal dancers) at the Paris Opera Ballet.

Trained at the Toulouse Conservatoire and Paris Opera's own prestigious school, the five-foot-five Pujol has an edgy quickness, flawless musicality, and a mature understanding of the dramatic repertoire. "Performing theatrical ballets, I can let go of everything and lose myself in a role completely," she says.

After eight years of climbing POB's five-rank system, Pujol's big moment came after being cast on just 48 hours' notice as the dynamic Kitri in Don Quixote, a role she had barely rehearsed. Her first performance was so perfect that the artistic directors decided to promote her to étoile between Act 2 and 3. They have a flair for drama at the Bastille.

"People ask if I knew that was coming," Pujol says, "but I was so concentrated on not dancing into scenery or forgetting my steps that the promotion came as a complete shock." Pujol's season includes Maurice Béjart's thrilling Firebird (May 13-June 19) and a much-anticipated debut in Giselle (July 4-15). With its mad scene and haunting second act, this classic should prove the perfect vehicle for Paris Opera's youngest new étoile.