Opera ballet

Haunting fantasy of an artist from the Paris Opera Ballet

Last year, the Paris Opera Ballet’s new online platform, 3e Scène, approached photographer Alex Prager and asked her to make a film. She was given creative carte blanche and granted full access to the company’s facilities and dancers. The result is “La Grande Exit”, a ten-minute film which makes its US debut at the Lehmann Maupin in New York this week alongside Prager’s distinctive and haunting photographs.

The film translates the photographer’s own feeling of anxiety: the prima ballerina (played by Émilie Cozette) goes on stage at the Opéra Bastille and begins to dance an adaptation of the play “Amoveo” by Benjamin Millepied, to a score by Stravinsky hauntingly adapted by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. At first, the performance feels like what Prager calls a “PBS-like” movie, “when you’re looking for something to watch late at night” — until his perspective shifts in the dancer’s mind and the things start to fall apart quickly. Consumed by her own anxiety and stage fright, the dancer becomes intensely aware of the audience – people who are bored or staring at her – until their gaze almost consumes her. The intention behind the project, as Prager puts it, was to investigate the subjectivity of the ballerina: “the way what she perceives to be happening is perhaps different from what is actually happening”.

The film plays on Lehmann Maupin’s Lower East Side, alongside stills of the crowd, which, true to Prager’s style, is made up of faces that are both eerily specific and completely anonymous – so that the viewers can “put their own intentions” into the work. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted with the soft, ambient soundtrack of a filling theater – and suddenly has the feeling that they are watching and being watched. Prager captures a version of the legendary institution with heightened glamor and horror capabilities, much like “The Red Shoes,” a film that influenced her in creating “La Grande Exit.” “I really wanted to focus on this fantastical world of what the Paris Opera Ballet is,” she says.