Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Day 2 with the American Friends of the Paris Opera Ballet

Stéphane Lissner, director of the Paris Opera, embraces Aurélie Dupont, director of dance for the Paris Opera Ballet at a post-performance dinner in Mr. Lissner's private office in the Palais Garnier.
by Jeffrey Hirsch

Day two of the Patrons trip for the American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet
was jammed with activities. We visited the former palace of Marie de Medicis, the Luxembourg Palace, now home to the French Senate. We climbed to the top of the dome at the Palais Garnier to attend a working rehearsal of the Paris Opera Ballet before returning to the theater to witness a performance of Merce Cunningham's "Walkaround Time" and William Forsythe's "Trio" and "Workwithin Work." The day ended with an intimate dinner in the office of Stéphane Lissner, director of the Paris Opera, where we were treated to the presence of former Etoile and and new director of dance for the Paris Opera Ballet, Aurélie Dupont.
The entrance to the Petit Luxembourg, the residence of the Senate President.
The day started with a private tour of the Luxembourg Palace led by Joelle Garriaud-Maylam, Senator representing the French citizens living abroad.

Although the palace was first constructed during the early part of the 1600s for Marie de Médicis, Queen of France as the second wife of King Henry IV, the history of the Palais is rich and varied. And while first a palace, it became a prison during the French Revolution, the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the House of Peers after the fall of Napoleon in 1814. In 1836, King Louis Phillippe enlarged the palace to its current structure. During the Second World War, the palace was occupied before being liberated in 1944. In 1958, Charles de Gaulle created the 5th Republic and the Palais du Luxembourg finally became the home of the French Senate.
Walking through the ground floor of the palace.
Looking out the palace windows towards the Luxembourg Garden.
A stroll through the garden earlier that morning.
Nothing remains today of the interiors as they were created for Marie de Médicis in 1615, save some architectural fragments reassembled in the Salle du Livre d'Or.
The Salle du Livre d'Or brings together all that remains of the original decoration of the Palace.
The ceiling painting depicts Marie de Médicis establishing peace in France.
Ellen Levitt, Danielle Hirsch, Flavia Gale, our host Senator Joelle Garriaud Maylam, and Corice Arman assemble in the Salle du Livre d'Or.
The Senator photographing Donna Corbat with a bust of Marie de Médicis behind. Her stoic expression might have something to do with that fact that her husband, King Henry IV, retained the services of 75 mistresses over the course of their marriage.
Olivia Flatto and Senator Joelle Garriaud Maylam.
Corice Arman, Mihaela Skobe, Danielle Hirsch, Jeff Hirsch, Flavia Gale, Senator Joelle Garriaud Maylam, Thea Skobe (child), Charles Selden, Donna Corbat, Patricia Selden, Olviia Flatto, Heiner Sussner, Resa Sussner, Ellen Levitt, Laure Vienot-Tronche, and Ruth Ann McSpadden.
Floral motifs inside and out.
Exiting the room.
The interior courtyard.
Madame Secretary leading us up the stairs.
The old-fashioned message delivery system.
Entering the magnificent Conference Hall.
Olivia and Donna admiring the 7,000-square-foot room.
The room's function evolved along with the history of the palace. The present day decoration is among the richest of the Second Empire, created between 1852 and 1854.
The dome painted by Jean Alaux depicting the apotheosis of Napoleon I.
Henri Lehman's France under the Capetians, Valois, and Bourbons, 1854. The history of France is celebrated in the arches at each end of the room.
The walls are decorated with eight Gobelins tapestries inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses.
"RF" monograms abound, reminding us that we are in the domain of the République Française.
The chimney piece where the throne of Napoleon I once stood.
The gilt wood throne of Napoleon I, carved around 1804, now located across the room.
A view of the Conference Room from the Messengers of State Salon. Today, it is used an anti-chamber, as it was in the time of Marie de Médicis.
Portraits of Louis XIII and Louis XIV in the Messengers of State Salon. Louis XIII (left) is depicted as an apathetic ruler of diminished stature whereas Louis XIV (right) is the very embodiment of royalty.
The group assembled in the Senate Chamber.
The Seven Statues facing the Senate Chamber's Semicircle (from left to right): Turgot, d'Aguesseau, l'Hôpital, Colbert, Molé, Malesherbes, and Portalis.
One of only 27 female Senators, Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam — a member of “Les Républicains,” the main French centre-right political party — schooled us on the French political system. The Senator herself has a grueling work schedule, logging nearly 20 hours a day. Her various responsibilities include serving as the Senator for French Citizens Living Abroad and she also acts as Vice-Chair of the Senate delegation for Women's Rights and Equality of Chances. We came away very impressed with her intelligence, sensitivity, dedication, and humility; we wished we were her constituents.
Sessions in the chamber are normally held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Victor Hugo's seat in the Senate. "To love is to act."
Reference books kept by the Senate chamber podium.
The view from the podium.
Olivia addressing the members of the AFPOB.
The floral arrangements throughout are plucked from the grounds of the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens. "Fully sustainable," the Senator pointed out.
"Find the Senate on Snapchat."
The private courtyard.
The tour continued to the Library Reading Room. Essential to the staff and senators for their work, one must be invited by a Senator to access the library.
The library contains over 400,000 works.
The East Gallery has been a library annex since 1887. Prior to that, it housed Royal apartments and a museum and was even the headquarters of the German Luftwaffe during the occupation.
An illustration of the gallery when it was set up as a museum.
We ended our tour with lunch with the in the Salon Napoleon.
Strawberry macarons for dessert, of course.
Looking into the Cour d'honneur where a small group of Senators were gathered.
A (unisex) bathroom break before exiting the palace.
Later that afternoon, we made our way over to the Palais Garnier for a wonderful treat: to attend a working rehearsal of the Paris Opera Ballet in one of the beautiful studios under the dome. The dancers were working on Serge Lifar's "Suite en blanc," first performed by the Paris Opera Ballet in 1943.
Along the steps of the Palais Garnier.
And up high, looking west from the top of the Palais Garnier.
The vista looking south.
Looking up at one of the two dance studios.
Looking through the dance studio window with lyre and flute motif.
Entering the studio in the cupola of the Palais Garnier.
The space in the cupola has two floors of dance rehearsal space.
The rehearsal begins ...
Germain Louvet and Eleonord Baulac in the distance (hand on hips).
Eleonord and Germain were both nominated Etoiles three days apart in December 2016, and were Aurélie Dupont's first nominations.
Mathieu Ganio and Ludmila Pagliero, both Etoiles.
Eleonord and Germain watching their fellow Etoiles.
Wrapping up the rehearsals.
Back to Le Bristol to freshen up ...
Stopping to smell the roses.
We came back to our room to a mystery birthday cake (my birthday is in October). That did not stop us from devouring half of it. Chocolate and hazelnut mousse. I wish we had finished all of it. It was that good.
Fa-Raon the Birman cat is a permanent guest at Le Bristol Paris.
Before long, we were back at the Palais Garnier for the Paris Opera Ballet's performance of American Masters' iconic pieces with Merce Cunningham's "Workaround time" and William Forsythe's "Trio" and "Workwithin work." This production is typically what AFPOB supports: An appearance in the US of a French artist or, in this case, a production in Paris featuring American artists.

And quite incidentally, the opposite was true in this production as the beautiful couple at the end in the yellow skirts — Hugo Marchand (the newest and youngest etoile) and his partner Hannah O'Neil — were invited in April 2016 to perform at the gala of Youth American Grand Prix in New York. It was the Friends of the Paris Opera and Ballet that made it possible.
In our seats, waiting for the curtain to raise.
Looking up at Chagall's extraordinary ceiling at the Opéra Garnier, depicting the power and beauty of art.
The company taking their bows after performing Merce Cunningham's "Walkaround Time. First premiered in 1968, the piece was born out of Cunningham's fascination with computers and technology.
The Grand Foyer during Intermission.
Julia Flatto, Olivia Flatto, Donna Corbat, and Caroline Graham.
Caroline Graham, Danielle Hirsch, Nathalie Biringer, and Julia Flatto.
Trio by William Forsythe: Ludmilla Pagliero, Fabien Revillon, and Simon Valastro.
Herman Schmerman by William Forsythe.
Hannah O'Neill and Hugo Marchand.
The company takes their bows after Forsythe's Herman Schmerman.
The crowd exiting the theater ...
... and down the the Grand Staircase.
After the performance, about 40 of us retreated upstairs for an intimate dinner in the office of Stéphane Lissner, director of the Paris Opera. I was lucky enough to be seated next to Aurélie Dupont, the new director of dance for the Paris Opera Ballet, who recently replaced Benjamin Millepied.

I first saw Aurélie in Bolero at Lincoln Center in 2012. Danielle implored me to go. It turned out that that very performance changed my outlook on ballet. I was forever hooked. I retold the story to Aurélie with great excitement and as gracious and charming as she was to this American, I got the feeling it wasn't the first time she heard someone say that.
Cocktails before dinner in Stéphane Lissner's private office in the Palais Garnier.
Mr. Lissner's desk.
As a child, Aurélie lived in Maryland with her parents, both doctors. She grew up loving tap dance (she "loves" Fred Astaire) and Broadway musicals. I jokingly asked her if she had ever seen Stomp. "Yes, three times!" She initially had dreams of becoming a pianist but her parents refused to buy her a piano. It was impractical. "Dance was nice for girls," said mama. So off to a ballet class Aurélie went and the rest is history. I very plainly told her that we have her strict and unyielding parents to thank, which did trigger a wry smile.

She has the perfect temperament (her English was perfect, too) for a job that requires great diplomacy and a great deal of skill and confidence. She has many exciting things planned for the company. You'll just have to wait and see like the rest of us. A true Etoile is what I left thinking.
Stéphane Lissner and Aurélie Dupont.
Patricia Selden, Mary Sprague, Ellen Levitt, Charles Selden, and RuthAnn Mc Spadden.
Albane de Chatellus, Valentina Lissner, and Corice Arman.
Stéphane Lissner, Donatienne and Phillipe Beaufour, and Charlotte de Saint Arroman.
Chairman of the American Friends Olivia Flatto with Aurélie Dupont.