On my last night in Paris, Kristin, Fara, and Twila went to a classical concert at St. Chapelle while Jason, Justin, and I met at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees
to see the National Ballet of Norway perform a version of Swan Lake
When I got back to the apartment, Fara asked me about the show.
“It was interesting,” I replied. I tried to describe it, picking out snatches of moments, but ultimately I kept falling back on, “it was interesting.”
“Yeah,” said Fara. “You’ve said that a few times.”
Interesting it was, though. This trailer might give you some idea.
It began with a video about Swan Lake‘s history, meaning, and impact; then detailed some of the creative process for the show. Essentially, it was the Letter from the Director in video form. It was interesting (there I go again), but I think Justin was right when he said that the dancing itself would have been much more impactful at the beginning if we hadn’t just watched footage of their rehearsal process.
The dancers performed on water a few inches deep on a specially-made tarp floor. Lights were hung from rails on three sides of the pool and moved slowly up and down during the dancing to create different effects. That, aside from a giant mirror that descended upstage for the last part, was the only set.
There were some really stunning moments between the dancers, the water, and the lighting. The dancing was far more modern in style than ballet, although two dancers did cross the water multiple times exclusively on point with remarkable skill. In fact, the entire piece felt more like a piece of performance art than a ballet. The only real reference to Swan Lake itself was the stand off between a white swan and a black swan. The bit you saw at the beginning of the trailer? That was actually a good 3 or 4 minutes of the show. Black swan slaps white swan. White swan hugs black swan. Pause, pause, pause. Repeat. Combine that with an operatic soprano who accidentally electrocutes the entire company with a hairdryer while they’re playing and splashing and dancing to jazz music, a hundred or so white rubber duckies, and a lot of dancers sliding across the wet tarp with amazing precision and control and, well, I guess you’ve got what they called it – A Swan Lake. It alternated between lovely and funny and weird and stupid and pretty confusing, and when it ended I truly wasn’t sure if I actually liked it or not.
It was, in a word, interesting.
The theater was built in 1913 and was the first piece of Art Deco architecture in Paris. It was also, I discovered later, the hall where Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered, which means it was the location of the famous classical music riots.
The show was close to sold out, so Jason found us three scattered single seats. After we drew our places randomly from Jason’s hand and then found our separate sections, we got to play a little game of Where’s Waldo via text message before the show began.
I spy a Justin!
I spy a Jason!
You see those window-boxes above Jason? I was in one of those just left of center. It was a good seat, and I enjoyed having such a nosebleed view for a show that did so much full-group visual work.
We found each other in the lobby after the show and walked through the rain to La Fermette Marbeuf for dinner. The hostess tsk-tsked at our dampness, then led us to their dining room:
The setting was lovely, the company grand, the food unremarkable. We walked back to the main street after dinner and I caught a taxi back to our apartment.