I've written many times about how I love seeing ballet at the Palais Garnier. Pierre and I have had a subscription for many years and save up our centimes so we can get the best seats possible. Having these few guaranteed date nights in Paris spread throughout the year are an important way to remind us that we live in an amazing city and that we actually like spending time together! But guys, this year's season has gotten off to a rough start.
First, we missed the first ballet we reserved because it was just after the rentrée and I didn't realize until too late that I never received the tickets. (The box office claimed I checked the box for "print at home", but I've never done this before and have no idea why I would've started this year. Alas, I have no way to prove it.) Our next ballet was this week and I did manage to print out the tix, but it turns out Pierre had a seminar and had to bow out of date night. No matter, I took my friend David, who has invited me to many a show and I was happy to reciprocate.
David himself was incensed that the Opéra de Paris is raising the ticket rates next year by almost 50%, and let me tell you they are already not cheap. He has vowed to boycott, but I haven't decided since I don't know the program yet. I suspect I will just not be able to quit them (then again, I may not be able to afford them). But let's move on to the show.
It was an evening of four contemporary pieces by Nicolas Paul, Pierre Rigal, Benjamin Millepied (the new director of the ballet) and Edouard Lock. The Rigal and the Millepied were world premieres, which are always pretty exciting. Unfortunately, in this case, contemporary dance also meant contemporary music, which I am not the biggest fan of. I find a lot of it discordant and repetitive and don't know enough about music theory to appreciate all the cool things it's supposed to be doing.
The first ballet, Nicolas Paul's "Répliques", was set to music by the avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti and was notable for its beautiful scenography by Paul Andreu. The dance was spare and fluid, and made great use of the depth of the Garnier stage, using perspective to create a mirror effect for the four couples on stage. However, the jarring music made it hard for me to emotionally connect with the dancers.
The second work, "Salut", by Pierre Rigal, was my favorite of the evening. The word "salut" has a double meaning in French - it can be a way of saying good-bye, or can mean 'salvation'. It is also the root for "salutations", which are the final bows the dancers take on stage. Rigal had the inspired idea to start his ballet with this final bow, as a group of dancers all in black and white face an imaginary audience to the sound of thunderous applause. Frankly, I could've done less with the applause effect, which went on for a bit too long, but eventually the soundtrack settled into a percussive musical theme as the dancers' bowing devolved/evolved into something else entirely. Wigs came off, tutus were removed, and the movements changed from strict to something more dreamlike, filled with animalistic imagery and ending with a kind of mystical rebirth. It was weird and wonderful and wholly original.
After an intermission, we picked up with Millepied's "Together Alone", a pas de deux which our night featured stars Aurélie Dupont and Marc Moreau. Dressed casually in jeans and t-shirts, the couple danced together to a live on-stage pianist playing a surprisingly melodic Philip Glass étude. The choreography was full of romantic longing, but would casual intimacy would probably have been bettered served in a smaller space.
The evening finished with Edouard Lock's" AndréaAuria". Set in a sort-of swanky cocktail party atmosphere, the piece featured six women and five men interacting in groups of two's and three's dancing in and out of ever-shifting spotlights (the striking lighting design was by John Munro). This ballet boasted not one but two live pianos on stage. The pianists echoed the dancers, playing sometimes in harmony, sometimes battling each other. There was an undercurrent of sexual tension and gender politics in the piece, but it mainly served to show off the amazing virtuousity of the Opera de Paris's dancers (including my personal fave, Alice Renavand, as the lead).
There are many wonderful venues in Paris to see dance. Not all of them are as beautiful as the Palais Garnier nor do they have dancers as technically perfect as the Opéra company. The Théâtre de la Ville specializes in the contemporary choreographers I tend to like and I know that Suresnes, which is not far from our new place, hosts a world-class hip hop dance festival every year. Maybe it's time to for us branch out with our subscriptions. Or maybe it's time to cut down on the Starbucks and start saving for the Opéra's next season.