L’Opéra Garnier… I always dreamed to one day step onto the stage at the famous Parisian theater where so many elegant point shoes have brushed the floor in fervent fouettés… and I did. I did, and I did a pirouette on that most illustrious stage where just minutes before the dancers of the Paris Opera ballet company had been gracefully floating. I did a pirouette… aaaaand almost fell over. I almost fell over because the floor is slanted 5% and if you are not used to it, it can be quite destabilizing. This is where the terms “upstage” and “downstage” come from.
After catching my fall, I looked up to see Brigitte Lefèvre, company director, giving post-performance notes to dancer Alessio Carbone. She raised an eyebrow and said with a kind chuckle in her voice “Si vous allez commencer à faire ça, il faut venir en cours demain!”… I was literally trembling with awe and excitement. She was speaking to me! And (jokingly, but still) inviting me to ballet class!
I was lucky enough to be given a private tour of the entire, I mean ENTIRE, opera house, after the Tuesday night performance of Hommage à Jerome Robbins this past May 4th 2010. From rafters to the belly, I will share some of what I saw with you dear readers…
A lofty rehearsal room under the dome of the Opera house. I couldn’t resist a pose.
As much as I love the ballet, never have I ever shed a tear for the heros and heroines, until I saw Aurelie Dupont dancing the choreographie of John Neumeier in La Dame Aux Camelias = the Lady With the Camillas, at the Paris Garnier opera house. I know the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils very well, and did certainly shed many a tear for the Marguerite Gautier on paper, one of the most delicate and heart-wrenching characters to come out of 19th century literature. But I had no idea what I was in for at the Palais Garnier.
The lead role was shared by five different star dancers over the course of this run of the ballet which is part of the Parisian company’s repertoire. Aurelie Dupont was dancing on the 21st of February when I attended, perched on a balcony seat just over stage right.
The funny thing is, almost two years ago, I was at the same theater watching the same ballet, but couldn’t stand to stay after the first act, let alone the following two (it’s a 3 hour show with 2 entractes). My excuse? I was recovering from heavy wisdom-tooth surgery and felt like I had a brass ball attached to my face, and was completely unable to enjoy the beauty of the spectacle for all the painkillers they had me stuffed with. So I was more than thrilled to return this winter for a second chance.
The story is about love, devotion, loss, solitude and human emotion. Neumeier’s carefully crafted choreography seizes all of the desire and pain that pours out of the heroine’s heart like so many tears that smeared my mascara as the end drew near. Chopin’s notes give the ballet wings, and lifts it beyond the ordinary; the costumes by Jürgen Rose wisk you away from contemporary Paris and into another time, a time of elegance and grace that seems only a fantasy to us now; and the whole accented with lighting by Rolf Warter… the effect was enthralling.
I forgot to scrutinize and critique the dancers’ feet, I omitted to count pirouettes, I hardly remembered to notice the patterns in the choreography… I was so engaged within the story and the characters. In front of a full house, Aurelie Dupont was not only stunningly beautiful, and she did more than give us great technique, perfect steps, timing and stage presence, she gave everything. She put every ounce of herself into Marguerite Gautier and she took my breath away.
Today being the final show for the season, you also will have to wait for your second chance to see this stunning spectacle at the Opera Garnier Paris. Until then…