After what's been the most adventurous and indulgent summer I can remember I find myself back in Portland. It was my summer of travel; aside from my month in Europe (Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona and Paris) I spent a few weeks here and there visiting friends and family in Seattle, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada. Now that I've returned and somewhat settled back into my normal routine it's struck me how much I've missed dancing and how much I'm going to physically pay for not taking class for the majority of the summer. Then again, I consider a long walk along the Seine on a warm Parisian night a very, very good source of exercise.
During my ten days in Paris I had the opportunity to see not one but two ballet performances. Both of them free of cost to yours truly. I'll pause a moment for your jealousy and confusion to set in.
On Bastille Day the Paris Opera Ballet presented a free matinee of their production of Signes, a collaboration between choreographer Carolyn Carlson and set/costume designer Olivier Debre. Set to music by Rene Aubry, the ballet was divided into seven movements, each with its own set and costume changes. The piece was unmistakably a vehicle for Olivier Debre to showcase his work, which made for a very lovely lesson of Ballet as Artwork. As complemented by the dancers, the sets became abstract and modern paintings that shifted and evolved. Think Joan Miro, but on a grander scale and springing to life. The dancers, all barefoot, echoed their colorful, structural surroundings with contemporary movement and clean, simple gestures. Each dancer had at least seven costume changes, and judging by the costumes this wasn't an easy task. One movement would have the ladies in a tight tube dress that stretched from shoulders to ankles, complete with a Calder-esque headpiece, while the next would find them in floor-sweeping sleeved gowns in varying black and white patterns. The principal woman, Marie-Agnes Gillot, had to navigate herself into and out of a majestic yellow silk gown that fanned out across a quarter of the stage. I had watched a clip of the ballet that was posted on the Opera's website, but aside from that I had no prior knowledge of who or what I was about to see. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The dancing itself wasn't too involved, no dazzling technical feats or dramatic bravura, but as a whole the piece was visually stunning. The rest of the audience seemed to think so as well, as the dancers enjoyed curtain call after curtain call. I should also note that people had begun lining up for the show hours in advance. I arrived at the Opera Bastille two hours in advance, thinking to explore the premises and enjoy a leisurely lunch, and already the queue stretched down several blocks. The French do love their ballet, and rightfully so.
Speaking of jealousy, upon leaving the Opera Bastille I snapped this picture of the poster for the Opera's next invited company. Sigh. Lucky ducks.
My last day in Paris I received a phone call from a long-lost friend. "My company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens is in town, would you like to come see tonight's show?" Um, yes. Granted that I had spent the day battling the twenty-four hour flu, I didn't feel inclined to do much but sleep that evening, but it's amazing how my mind and body will rally when presented with a ticket to a show at the Grand Palais in Paris, France. Funny how that works.
I don't have a program from that performance, as they were selling for ten euro apiece and ten euro is, approximately, fifty American dollars. (I exaggerate.) So, unfortunately, I couldn't tell you what I saw or who choreographed it, but I can say that it was fantastic. The show took place under the dome of the Grand Palais once the sun went down, and with my dancer-comp ticket I had prime real estate in the third row. Digression: I ended up sitting next to two other dancers from ODC/Dance in San Francisco. I'm always astounded by how very small the ballet world is. Anyway, no fancy sets or costumes this time, aside from a bucket of gold paint that five male dancers smeared on their faces and chests in one movement. The dancing was intensely physical and wonderful to watch, and as a ballet dancer it's always fascinating and inspiring for me to see skillful, passionate dancers of another discipline. I must also say how pleased and proud I was to see my friend, Karell Williams, dancing in his first year for Les Grands. I first met Karell when we were finalists in the Arts Recognition and Talent Search (ARTS) held by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA) in 2003, when we had both just graduated from high school and were anxiously awaiting what the future held for us. I went on to OBT, Karell joined Les Grands after four years at Juilliard. The circumstances of our reunion couldn't have been better.
One last Parisian ballet anecdote: While basking in impressionist art at the Musee d'Orsay, one particular sculpture caught my eye. I stared at it with the strong feeling that I'd seen these people, this pose before. The sculpture, Maturity/L'Age Mur, is by Camille Claudel, but I gave it a different name after my mind lit up in recognition:
Dark Angel leading man away from Waltz Girl, fourth movement, Balanchine's Serenade, oui? Of course the pose isn't exactly identical, but the similarities are pretty striking. For one, there's the way the standing woman (the Dark Angel, for this argument) has her arms draped over the man's. She looks down and the man looks away from the woman who reaches out to him pleadingly (the Waltz Girl, who in Balanchine's version is sitting on one hip and reaching with one arm). While I think it's really a cape or a swath of fabric that she's wearing, it flies up and gives the impression of a set of dark, unfolded wings. George Balanchine himself was no stranger to Paris, so it's very possible that he modeled that moment in Serenade after this work of art and thusly nicknamed that woman the Dark Angel. I'm going to try to find a picture of this Serenade pose to post, but I'm certain that those who are well-versed in the ballet know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm also keenly aware of the possibility that this Claudel-Balanchine interpretation is common knowledge and I'm congratulating myself on discovering something that has been well-known for quite some time now.
Any trip to Paris is beautiful and wonderful, for anyone at anytime. A ballet dancer going to the ballet in Paris? Chez elle, c'est tres magnifique.