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DANCING IN THE LOUVRE

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 20 NOVEMBER 2008 - Entering the Louvre Museum from the Rue du Rivoli via the Passage Richelieu one recent evening, an unusual sight met visitors' eyes through a large, three meter high glass window. One of the statues, a Greek God poised in flight, seemed to be moving. A closer look confirmed that yes, it actually was moving, changing in perfect slow motion from one classical position to another. Passers-by stopped to gaze in amazement at this unusual phenomenon, framed as it were by the window.

The ideally proportioned young man, in perfect symbiosis with the statues of the iron-clad gladiators surrounding him, turned out to be part of a long planned collaboration between two of France's greatest cultural institutions, the Louvre Museum and the Paris Opera Ballet.

"The Louvre Museum and the Paris Opera Ballet have been trying to get something going together for some time", Brigitte Lefèvre, director of the company, told me, "and then when the opportunity arose last year, I immediately spoke to Yann Bridard, who had come to speak to me about developing such a project."

The following week, Bridard himself explained how he envisaged breaking what he described as the static image given by dance on stage.

"I wanted to feel closer to my audience", he explained, "and create works where the spectators could see dance from several angles, and hence the title, Angles de Vue for my four choreographies which were danced on just the one evening in the Cour Marly and Cour Puget at the Louvre. With so much space available, I felt I needed to clear the perspectives. I also relished the occasion to give an instant of pleasure for people who had not expected to see dance at all and were probably not in the habit of going to the opera."

To this effect, Bridard created four rather different works, danced one after another in four different parts of the sculpture section of the Richelieu wing, each piece being performed several times between 19hr 30 and 21hr 45. The first one I saw featured dancer Charlotte Ransom, dressed in a simple, peach-coloured shift which blended into her background, an easy to watch ballet which drew spectators on all four sides and which could be walked around.

In another area, a more substantial work for Josua Hoffalt and premiere danseuse Muriel Zusperreguy, ostensibly made to be seen from above, was already in progress. However, the work was so successful that, in addition to looking down upon the work from a sort of gangway, spectators also sat around the dancers. The work, inspired by Akido, began as a combat between the two who were clad in attractive, filmy black costumes, and many people stayed to watch the whole work several times the better to appreciate the lovely ending, when the couple spun gracefully round and around floating off in a kiss, reminiscent of a Chagall painting.

For Hoffalt, the experience was extraordinary. "Our ballet lasted about ten minutes", he told me, "but we performed it eight times, and each time, we felt more and more assured. It was quite nerve-wracking the first time as the place is so awe-inspiring. And of course we danced to silence as the very atmosphere has a special music all of its own. We didn't need a score; it would have been an intrusion."

The next piece on offer was the one seen from the outside interpreted by Yann Bridard himself, and deliberately conceived to be seen from a distance. Indeed, it was out of the question to see it close-up as access from the front was nearly impossible, Bridard performing on a sort of raised dais behind a sweeping staircase.

"My own solo", the dancer told me, "was a form of improvisation in which I expressed a particular emotion by letting my body go the way it wanted. I based it on circular movements interspersed by uncoordinated gestures suggestive of people with physical handicaps. Much also came from Tai Chi, and then I incorporated a short classical sequence with traditional academic movements in harmony with the sculptures around me."

He commented that the fourth ballet, about depression, was inspired by Pina Bausch. Unlike the three other works, this took place in an enclosed corner with spectators on two sides. And in contrast the piece, interpreted by Amélie Lamoureux, was given the support of a limited sound-track.

"What was so special about the project was the amount of cooperation I received from the people at the Louvre. I was given free choice of where to stage my choreographies and seized upon the opportunity to perform in the section of all the sculptures. The majesty of the volumes and height around me was overwhelming. I was particularly grateful for the fact that I was not asked to stage my ballets on or around a particular painting and was able to choose the theme of the sculptures themselves."

"What was interesting for me too, was to present dance as a work of art, with the spectator free to watch it, walk away, or simply ignore the goings on… which some people did. Being so close to my audience, I saw two tourists hurrying up the stairs without a glance at my work! Maybe they only had 2 hours at their disposal to visit the Louvre, in what could possibly be a once in a lifetime trip. If their dream was to see the Mona Lisa , then I can only bow down before such a distinguished rival!"

Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com. She last wrote on A Tribute to Jerome Robbins and New York City Ballet's visit to Paris.

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