The Paris Opera vowed an overhaul of its recruiting practices on Monday as it launched a drive towards greater diversity in the heart of its elite ballet company, orchestra and dance school.
The issue has already sparked fierce debate in France with right-wingers accusing the Opera's new director-general Alexander Neef of bringing American-style culture wars into the cloistered world of its arts scene.
But with Black Lives Matter protests roiling France, and deepening debate over its colonial legacy, Neef remains unrepentant about the need for greater diversity, and on Monday promised a shake-up of the 350-year-old institution.
The Opera will implement recommendations from a new report, including an active effort to send recruiters out into the world in search of new talent, rather than relying on dancers coming to them.
"The objective is not that the school recruits less talented students to meet diversity objectives, but to search for great students wherever they can be found," the report said, calling for decentralised exams in towns across France and its overseas territories.
Neef told AFP he was proud the Opera was the "first large cultural organisation in this country to have launched such a thing. There are others for sure that will follow."
"As an organisation that is so large and that is so deeply connected to the past... we shouldn't be afraid of asking not only these questions, but all kinds of questions," he said.
- 'Ballet blanc' -
The report highlighted other specific areas of concern, including the sensitive question of "anatomical criteria" in the selection process -- to move beyond "old and tenacious ideas" about black bodies as somehow ill-suited to classical dance.
It also touched on the tradition of "ballet blanc" (white ballet) -- where dancers appear all in white tutus and black performers are rarely seen -- making the point that skin colour was never referenced when they were originally designed in the 19th century.
Paris Opera will appoint a dedicated "diversity and inclusion officer", Neef said, following the lead of New York's Metropolitan Opera which named its first person to that role last month.
A consulting body of experts from inside and outside the Opera will also look at what these issues mean for its repertoire.
In 2015, the Opera's ballet director Benjamin Millepied met resistance after he ended the use of blackface for "La Bayadere" and renamed its "Danse des Negrillons" ("The Dance of the Little Negroes") as "The Dance of the Children."
Neef himself made waves recently when he told Le Monde newspaper that "some works will no doubt disappear from the repertoire."
There was a typical outcry as politicians leapt on the suggestion that audience favourites such as "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker" might face the chop, even though the Opera made it clear that there has "never been any question of dropping (Rudolf) Nureyev's works".
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has nonetheless slammed what she called "anti-racism gone mad".
And Le Monde's editor-in-chief Michel Guerrin warned that France was "slowly going down the American road, consisting of the runaway self-censorship of artists and programmers in order to avoid trouble."
Neef hit back on Monday, saying there were no plans to "rewrite the librettos".
Although the report's authors have been inspired by US protests, he said the new manifesto was "absolutely not about importing concepts of diversity from a context that is not ours", or rejecting the Opera's successful past practices.
"It is more about asking ourselves: 'Do we fully respond to this moment? Can we do better?' It is about finding the best possible talent, and for that you might not continue looking in the same places all the time," he told AFP.