The Paris Opera Ballet feted the opening of its 2021-2022 dance season with a spectacular gala at the Palais Garnier Friday night. The sweeping marble staircase and its surrounds were typically spectacular, swathed in hues of red and pink flower bouquets. The two contemporary dance pieces and ballet accompanied by new Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel (he of the LA Philharmonic ) were particularly thought-provoking. The dinner, which served rare blue lobster to 750 guests, was exceptionally succulent. The stars of the night, however, were the public.
Last year’s gala was witnessed virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this season, the black-tie audience made known their delight to finally return to the beloved halls of the Palais Garnier. Led by director of dance Aurélie Dupont, the evening began with the traditional ballet procession presenting the Etoiles, First Dancers, Corps de ballet, and students of the Paris opera dance school.
The opening performance, a contemporary dance “Wave Braker” by Damien Jalet and associate choreographer Aimilios Arapoglou and featuring visuals and costumes by JR, offered a new take on the physicality of dance, with performers spending the first fifteen minutes on their knees, swaying like algae under the sea. They later stood, a cacophony of individualists, only to return together to find union, albeit in the shape of a man-made boat, adrift in the sea. A piece to meditate on, it was listed as one of the “15 Great Performances” of 2020 by French newspaper Les Echos.
Throughout a first intermission, the likes of Egyptian mezzo-soprano Farah El Dibany, dressed in a lace gown by Gemy Malouf, architect Aline Ammar D’Amman in black velvet Chanel, Institut du Monde president Jack Lang, designer Haider Ackermann, and photographers Inez & Vinoodh meandered through the great halls. Guests soon returned to their seats for a performance of Clouds Inside by American choreographer Tess Voelker and performed by Marion Gautier and Antonin Monié, a hopeful pas de deux dedicated to youth and dreams.
Finally, the corps de ballet, first dancers, and étoiles took to the stage for a virtuoso performance of Etudes with tutus signed la maison Chanel (annually, both Chanel and Rolex support the soirée). It must be noted that there were a few moments of tension among some dancers, but there is also a shift in perception… a missed pirouette is rare insight into the humanity of exceptional dancers whom have suffered enormously over the past year under the pandemic. Artists who were starved of their passion and purpose for months on end. The public rightly whooped and cheered, bravos raining down from the opera balconies.
The final piece, Etudes highlighted three étoile dancers, two whom were recently named to the highest rank of the company. Paul Marque, an ebullient dancer, and Sae Eun Park, who, for her swift tenacity, nimble feet, and profound sincerity expressed a veritable chasm of her savoir-faire and that of others. Etoile Mathias Heymann, who is of Moroccan-French heritage, showcased not just his technical prowess but his experience on stage. An etoile since 2009, the dancer attracted the full attention of the audience, bringing guests to suspended euphoria with each leap that erupted in bravos. In the audience were his parents—his father, who supported his son since day one had not yet witnessed Heymann onstage since his nomination as Etoile. Mothers, fathers, their children, husbands, wives, friends, colleagues, and aficions; on that night in Paris, all were together to celebrate the most high art of dance—at long last.