Live on the Web, A Star is Born
A French version of this article was published on Le Petit Journal
It was a first on the stage at the Bastille Opéra in Paris. Not the first performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s La Bayadère. This ballet—the last great creation of the Russian-born choreographer and director of Dance in Paris in the 1980s—has been part of the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire since 1992. Nor the fact that this Bayadère was sold and broadcast live on the internet through the new online platform “L’Opéra Chez Soi.”
No, the great novelty this Sunday 13 December 2020 in Paris was a nomination unlike any other, ultimate and without an audience.
The ballet has just finished and the curtain of the Opéra Bastille still raised on the almost empty 2700-seat hall. Only a handful of Opera employees and a few journalists were in attendance of this unique Bayadère. The other spectators—anonymous and scattered all over the world—were watching the show from the comfort of their homes, on a screen, Covid19 obliges. The conductor hastens to join the “Étoiles” and dancers on stage to thank and bow to this invisible audience in an impressive digital silence.
Masked and carrying a microphone in his hand, the new General manager of the Opera Alexander Neef and the Dance director Aurélie Dupont also approach the artists.
Among them, Paul Marque—a young 23-year-old dancer—stands discreetly in the second row, with a crown on his head and covered in gold. He has just danced the statuesque role of Idole Dorée—a demanding, physical performance. Just a few days ago, Paul Marque was also rehearsing the lead role of Solor to replace, if needed at the last minute, one of the “Ètoiles.” The presence of his directors at the end of the performance did not surprise him. “I thought Alexander Neef and Aurélie Dupont had gone on stage because there was a live show, that it was special, that they were going to say a word to the audience at home,” he told AFP.
After all, the Paris Opera, like many other theatres in France, has been constantly reorganizing its programming according to government authorizations to welcome or not audiences. Just a few days ago, Alexander Neef was scheduling the reopening of the Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille, starting mid-December, not only for La Bayadère but also Carmen conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson, La Traviata, and a whole series of concerts. The reopening is now postponed, at best until January.
The Paris Opera and Ballet just launched a digital platform of on demand performances and free programs: L’Opéra Chez Soi. La Bayadère inaugurated the live broadcasts on this site launched a few days earlier. More details at the end of this post.
As perhaps Paul Marque did, online spectators may have thought for a moment that the young German-born director, freshly arrived from Toronto to succeed Stéphane Lissner, wanted to celebrate the launch—finally—of a digital platform for videos on-demand available throughout the world (except China) of some of the Paris Opera’s best performances. Sunday’s December 13th, 2020’s La Bayadère inaugurated the live broadcasts on this site launched a few days earlier. At the end of the ballet, Alexander Neef could have very well listed some of the other titles available for rent: The Barber of Seville, a Beethoven cycle directed by Philippe Jordan, Rigoletto, Swan Lake, Lady Macbeth, Don Giovanni, or The Story of Manon. The catalogue also includes free concerts, Mozart’s magical Bastien and Bastienne, documentaries, and short films.
Wagner’s Ring conducted by Philippe Jordan will be audio broadcast and available for streaming on line after Christmas and until the end of January. Details at the end of this post.
There is no shortage of communication topics at the Paris Opera at the moment. Alexander Neef could have taken advantage of this opportunity to also advertise the upcoming audio broadcast, scheduled after Christmas, of Wagner’s Ring with Philippe Jordan at the baton. The Ring should have been a Parisian feast, the farewell consecration of the Paris Opera’s Musical Director who is expected at the Vienna Opera in January. The Covid19 pandemic decided otherwise, and lockdowns constantly shook up the preparation and creation of the four opera masterpieces. However, the Wagnerian fans will be able to take advantage of this historic tetralogy on France Musique radio between December 26th and January 2nd (available on the internet for streaming during the month of January).
Paul Marque wonders what Alexander Neef and Aurélie Dupont are doing here, and he is waiting, like everyone else on stage, with a profound silence as the only companion.
He has been waiting for so long, since his early childhood in the southwest of France where he was born. In 2014, the dancer joined the ballet of the Paris Opera after studying and learning at the Opera Ballet School since the age of seven. He then steadily moved up the ladder, almost a step up every year: Coryphée in 2015, winner of the gold medal at the international Varna dance competition the following year, Sujet in 2017, and Premier Danseur in 2018. Paul Marque has firmly established his movements and dance on stage. His childhood dream has given way to reality and multiple performances in a varied repertoire: Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Forsythe’s Blake Works I, Jérôme Robbins’ Fancy Free, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Giselle etc.—and finally this performance, on a Sunday afternoon. An online ballet, symbol of the Paris Opera Ballet resistance throughout the world. 2020, year of the abnormal but December 13th, a day to remember.
On stage, the new director of the Paris Opera stands tall and proud. A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran the following headline about Alexander Neef’s arrival in Paris: “Running the Paris Opera Was Never Going to Be Easy. But Come On.”
With a microphone in hand, Alexander Neef speaks, at last. He is not addressing the internet spectators, but the dancers instead, almost taking the orchestra and its conductor as witnesses. “Ladies and gentlemen. At the suggestion of Aurélie Dupont, Director of Dance, I have the great pleasure to announce the appointment of Mr. Paul Marque, ‘Danseur Étoile’.”
The applause breaks out the silence. Dancers, the opera employees and the musicians loudly and powerfully shout their enthusiasm away, all are forgetting for a moment the gigantically empty rows of the theater. Paul Marque covers his face with his hands, hiding his emotion of course, certainly his surprise, perhaps his incredulity to have entered a club with very few selected members—there are now 15, nine women and five men, to make up this elite body of ballet dancers—the new star dancer steps forward in front of the stage, stops for a long moment to bow, alone, to the cameras and musicians, then approaches the director of the Opera and instead of shaking hands, both men bring their elbows together. Though he does not refuse, a moment after, the former Étoile Aurélie Dupont’s invitation to an embrace. Paul Marque then turns to his peers and finally salutes them with his last bow.
“I have no words. I’m speechless. I can’t realize it, it’s huge: it’s been my dream since I was a child.”
In the middle of a Covid19 lockdown in Paris, a ballet star was born, live on the web.
For the complete catalogue of L’Opéra Chez Soi: https://chezsoi.operadeparis.fr/
For more information on Wagner’s Ring broadcast by France Musique: https://afpob.org/wagners-ring-for-the-holidays/
For more information on the American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet: http://www.afpob.org/