An Artist’s Haunting Fantasy of the Paris Opera Ballet
Last year, the Paris Opera Ballet’s new online platform, 3e Scène, approached the photographer Alex Prager and asked her to make a film. She was given creative carte blanche, and allowed full access to the company’s facilities and dancers. What resulted is “La Grande Sortie,” a ten-minute movie that makes its stateside debut at Lehmann Maupin in New York this week alongside Prager’s distinctive, haunting photographs.
The film conveys the photographer’s signature sense of anxiety: The prima ballerina (played by Émilie Cozette) takes the stage at the Ópera Bastille and begins to dance an adaptation of Benjamin Millepied’s piece “Amoveo,” set to a Stravinsky score hauntingly adapted by the Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. At first, the performance resembles what Prager calls a “PBS-style” movie, “when you’re searching for something to watch late at night” — until its perspective switches into the dancer’s mind, and things start to quickly unravel. Consumed by her own anxiety and stage fright, the dancer becomes acutely aware of the audience — people who are bored or who are staring right back at her — until their gaze almost consumes her. The intention behind the project, as Prager puts it, was to investigate the ballerina’s subjectivity: “how what she is perceiving is happening is possibly different from what is actually happening.”
The film is on view at Lehmann Maupin’s Lower East Side location, alongside still images of the crowd, which, true to Prager’s style, is composed of faces that are both eerily specific and wholly anonymous — so that viewers can “put their own intentions” into the work. Entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted by the soft, ambient soundtrack of a theater filling up — and suddenly gets the feeling that they’re both watching and being watched. Prager captures a version of the legendary institution with heightened capacities for both glamour and horror, not unlike “The Red Shoes,” a film that influenced her in creating “La Grande Sortie.” “I really wanted to focus this fantasy world of what the Paris Opera Ballet is,” she says.
“La Grande Sortie” is on view through Oct. 23 at Lehmann Maupin, 201 Chrystie Street, New York, lehmannmaupin.com.