Opera ballet

Marina Abramovic, With ‘Boléro’ at the Paris Opera Ballet

“Let me teach you a lesson later,” Ms Abramovic said. “I’ll show you how to bleed properly.”

After Romaeuropa, they continued to meet whenever the occasion and performance times permitted. When Brigitte Lefèvre, director of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris, asked Mr. Cherkaoui, a highly sought-after contemporary dance choreographer, to create a piece for the company, “Marina’s name came up right away”, says- he.

“I felt it was a long-standing decision, to work together, and not a fashionable idea,” said Ms. Lefèvre, in French, in her office at the Palais Garnier. “They all share an interiority and a desire to really push things. They are like a creative collective.

Ms. Lefèvre indicated that she had initially asked Mr. Cherkaoui to create a “Rite of Spring” as part of the centenary celebrations of the Stravinsky-Nijinsky work. But she changed her mind and then thought of “Bolero”, commissioned by Ida Rubinstein for her own company and choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska. It had its premiere at the Paris Opera in 1928.

The choice is more resonant in France than it could be in the United States. Here, “Boléro” is well known and widely identified with the 1960 version by Béjart, who created it as a centerpiece for his prima ballerina, Jorge Donn, and presented it in huge amphitheaters to crowds of the size of a pop concert.

“We could have been frightened by the famous music or the popularity of Béjart, but it’s about finding something that has the same logic, a ritual that has its own life,” says Mr. Jalet.

For her set design, Ms Abramovic said she spent a lot of time “thinking about how to get to next to nothing” because the music “is so much”. Eventually, she settled on a field of static electricity — “what you see when your TV isn’t tuned, like electrical particles” — projected onto the floor. There are other elements: a hanging mirror, a cloud of smoke, layers of Riccardo Tisci costumes falling like snakeskins on the floor.

Two weeks before the premiere, these ideas and many more had yet to be clarified.

“Opera has so many rules, but it’s interesting to make it work like that,” Ms Abramovic said. “How many artists were commissioned to make images of Christ on the cross? There were rules; so many disciples here, Mary in blue, et cetera. Within these restrictions, some people could create masterpieces. It’s interesting to take the rules and see what you can do. Freedom would be too easy.