One Evening, Two Works of Art: Paris Opera Ballet at Palais Garnier

After seeing the 2004 “Phantom of the Opera” film, and watching a red-clad Gerard Butler descend the Grand Escalier in the building’s foyer, I have dreamed of seeing a show at Palais Garnier. Designed by Charles Garnier, the theater was completed in 1875 and is a stunning work of art unto itself.

gerard butler

However, with the 1989 construction of the modern theater, Opéra Bastille, the Paris Opera Ballet does not always hold performances on Palais Garnier’s stage. Although this theater has the biggest stage in Europe, the Opéra Bastille has advanced technological capabilities and holds more people: 2,723 seats in total versus Garnier’s 1,979-seat house.

But if there is an upcoming performance at Palais Garnier, I could not recommend it more. The inside and the outside of the house are equally striking in their opulence and detail. The exterior features numerous sculptures, carvings and ornamentation such as the Harmony and Poetry gold statues on the top of the front facade and bronze busts of notable composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. Inside is a feast for the eyes with descending marble staircases, beautifully carved moldings and a high, vaulted ceiling.

When making your way to your seats, you must duck down through small, cramped entryways. The effect of this architectural device makes your entrance into the actual theater even more dazzling. The opulence of this horseshoe-shaped space opens in front of you and the ceiling glows with a colorful mural painted by Marc Chagall and illuminated by the seven-ton chandelier hanging from its center. Almost more striking, however, is the Grand Foyer just outside of the first ring. The foyer is a long hallway originally designed as a drawing room for Paris society. It features another painted ceiling, created by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry and restored in 2004. The painted parts depict important scenes throughout the history of music and are adorned by elaborate gold moldings and lit by a multitude of chandeliers.

Last Friday, I went to see Paris Opera Ballet perform “A Tribute to Jerome Robbins,” an evening featuring four of Robbins’ iconic works. 2018 marks the centennial celebration of this pioneering choreographer, and I have been lucky enough to see several other tribute performances showcasing his work. In particular, I have seen several performances by New York City Ballet of Robbins’ choreography, which they dance superbly. This isn’t surprising, given that NYCB was largely Robbins’ home turf. However, it was compelling to see another company take on these works.

Paris Opera Ballet performed “Fancy Free,” “A Suite of Dances,” “Afternoon of a Faun,” and “Glass Pieces.” I always enjoy the entertaining witticisms of Robbin’s “Fancy Free,” an ever-so American tale of sailors on leave in New York. The spirit of the dancers was animated and absorbing, but they seemed to be missing a little of the punch that elevates this work and brings it into a whole new dimension.

“A suite of Dances,”  performed by Étoile Hugo Marchand, was a completely different staging than I’ve experience in the past. I saw this work performed by Joaquin De Luz for NYCB last spring. De Luz is a contrasting dancer to Marchand in both his stature and style. De Luz, who retired in October, dances with bravura and is a master of the speedy Balanchine footwork. Newly promoted Marchand, on the other hand, is a more careful and delicate mover, while still being able to pull off the larger jumps and faster footwork that Robbins originally choreographed for Mikhaïl Baryshnikov. It was spectacular to be able to witness the difference between these two interpretations and the way dancers can move distinctly within the same choreography.

“Afternoon of a Faun” is a short piece that I always enjoy, but I especially appreciated the performance of “Glass Pieces” that concluded the evening. This 1983 ballet set to music by Phillip Glass allowed me to see more of the Corps de Ballet and made great use of the largest state in Europe. I am already looking forward to returning to see this versatile company in action.

If you can’t make it to Palais Garnier yourself, I suggest checking out the space virtually using Google’s Cultural Institute. If you want to see the opera house, but can’t make it to a performance, take advantage of the one hour multimedia tour offerings using the theater’s audioguide services. This option only costs 5€ and is well worth the time!

If you want to experience this incredible venue for a dance performance, “La Dame aux Camélias” is the next ballet scheduled to appear at Palais Garnier. Performances begin November 30 and continue through the 3rd of January.