I got in! I got a ticket to see Pina Bausch’s company Tanzetheater Wuppertal perform Nelken at Théatre de la Ville, Châtelet.
I went to the theater with two other hopefuls praying that someone would be scalping a ticket. Low and behold about ten minutes before the performance a woman looked at our sign, “Nous cherchons trois places. Nous sommes danseuses Canadiennes et nous voulons bien le voire!” She said, “Je suis désolée mais j’ai seulement une place.” The two hopefuls were so generous and said, “Someone take it.” I jumped at the chance, gave the woman my cash, and ran in! I realized that the others should change their sign to “deux places” now so I ran out with my pen thinking they didn’t have one. Luckily they did and in I went.
The theater itself was brilliant as are all the theaters in Paris.
I walked through “porte trois” sat in a make-shift aisle seat, row P seat 17 and sat next to the woman who sold me the ticket. She wore red tights and a red dress with small black lips embroidered about. She was, “très à la mode!”
She explained to me that she wanted to sell the ticket to a dancer because her best friend, whom she hadn’t seen in years, was supposed to be coming to Paris for her birthday but her train got cancelled. She wanted the ticket to go to someone that would appreciate the show and she thought a dancer would be perfect. I thanked the woman profusely, repeating, “Merci milles fois!” Hugged her and was so unbelievably grateful for the experience. I told her I could never repay her but wished her all the happiness in the world!
The stage was covered, upstage, downstage, stage right, and stage left with a blanket of pink carnations. A mic stand and mic stood downstage right on the apron and a comic strip scene from of a carnation filled meadow flooded my imagination. I was no longer sitting in a theater, instead I was transported into a fairy tale where beauty, heartache, and the fantastical, whimsical, witty mind of Pina Bausch was revealed.
The entire performance I was brought back to childhood. A game of 1, 2, 3 soleil was played by adults and yet somehow the children in them were reborn in front of my very eyes and likewise; simply being witness to this magical frenzy, I was transformed into a child as well. I smiled with the sheer joy of remembering what it felt like to play those games during recess at Sainte Madeleine in North York, Ontario Canada. There was the bossy kid “Go to the back of the line”, the devious kid, “I’m not cheating,” the polite kid, “Guys there’s rules, we should follow them,” and the aloof kid, “But but but the flowers, look at the flowers they’re just so pretty.” As a child I was all these kids at one point or another. I distinctly remember when my father signed me up for soccer, my mom dressed me, shin guards on upside down, I hardly knew because all I did was pick dandelions instead of playing the game.
I obviously saw the performers’ characters but what I really saw was them aged 6-8 who weren’t playing a part at all. They had somehow managed to embody themselves at that exact moment in their personal history. It was so moving to witness their connection to themselves despite the now discrepancy in age. I was deeply touched. I felt as though Pina Bausch knew me without ever having met me and somehow knew that reconnecting to my childhood was something I needed at that very moment in time.
In the middle of the performance one of the dancers, who seemed to be the narrator, asked the audience, “Pardonnez-moi, es-ce-que vous pouvez vous lever?” Without an instant of hesitation EVERYONE in the theater rose to their feet. Only in Europe!!! They asked everyone to extend their right arm, then left arm, then fold the right arm, then left arm into the chest. It was unreal. EVERYONE obliged! They danced with us. They had us count, “un, deux, trois, quatre” with every subsequent arm gesture. Suddenly, many of the company members were in the audience giving people hugs. Perfect strangers… hugs. A hug is a simple gesture of affection but can really mean so so so very much! I was lucky enough to have an aisle seat and one of the company members, Fernando Suels Mendoza,
stepped up and hugged me. It was real, he meant it, in that moment I was important to him and he wanted me to know that. He appreciated my presence and thanked me for it without words but a gesture of kindness. I remember being overcome with a sadness that this doesn’t happen often enough. In fact, it happens all too rarely! The songs of John Lennon and the Beatles pierced my ears but the songs weren’t actually playing. “All you need is love,” was the phantom soundtrack that my brain chose and no matter how hard I tried to stop, the record continued rotating like a musical interlude that echoed my hopes and dreams for this world.
The end of the performance is truly what makes me want to continue delving deeper into artistry and life.
One by one the company members came out of the stage left wings with arms held proudly in 5th position saying, “Je suis devenu danseur(euse) parce que…” This gave me the most guttural reaction to dance that I have ever had. I wept. Each revealed their stories, some funny, some tragic, some simple, some complex. But their humanity was paramount to all else. As they finished one by one they went to stand as though for picture day at the dance studio. They ended in a tableau of what you might see in a group photo for a Primary Level Ballet class.
I swear I have that picture in my year book from The National Ballet of Canada, age 6. I remember taking the individual photo too. Decked out with my black polyester leotard, pink character skirt, white socks, no tights, and pink leather fully soled ballet shoes laced around my ankles with pink satin ribbon. Bun high a top my head, the bun that they taught me how to make, despite having hair down to my bum and being only 6 years old. Remembering how painful my forearms got as I attempted, rather clumsily, to make, what seemed to be 400 pound ponytail, into the masterpiece of a perfect bun. I was cranked into B+ preparatory position holding my character skirt and snap the shutter blinked and the photo was taken.
The memories came flooding as I watched the lights fade on the canvas of dancers perfectly posed for their Primary Level class photo. They were no longer adults but had transformed into children with all the hopes and dreams of the world to come as had I earlier in the performance. We shared this experience and then it was gone.
The very next day, as part of our regular programming, we saw the Paris Opéra Ballet perform Paquita at the Palais Garnier. The wondrous talent and sheer technical abilities of the dancers on that stage were awe inspiring! I have not sat so close for a ballet in a very very long time and I was mystified! It was stunning. The Palais Garnier, with the ceiling painted by Chagall, was breath taking! And of course Paquita being a “dance-y” ballet even for the corps was simply phenomenal. The lead female soloist, Alice Renevand, performed an arabesque pirouette into an attitude pirouette and repeated this at least 5 times and ended with a simple, and perfect, and clean, double pirouette without moving one millimeter down the raked stage. The corps work was equally as impressive. Their batterie was crisp and sharp, clean and quick! I loved every second of it. The tambourines the fan and even the dramatic pantomime that makes classical ballet what it is, was magnificent! I was once again flooded with memories of going to the O’Keefe Center in Toronto and watching La Fille Mal Gardée, the first ballet I ever saw. Suddenly, I began to see the costumes on stage as I did when I was a child, they were princesses and I wanted to be one of them. It was a simple memory but one that resonated with me throughout the show. It of course only aided my memory to see the children of l’école on stage as well!
Tomorrow we’re headed for a backstage tour of the Palais Garnier which I am so looking forward to. Stories about the Phantôm de l’Opéra and its history await.