Reflections on Paris

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As San Francisco Ballet’s run comes to a close here in Paris, I am left to contemplate what has transpired and what I will remember for years to come. It has been an intense tour with no shortage of performances (18) or amount of ballets (also 18) and the Company deserves credit for pulling it off. The audiences have been very receptive, and judging from our prolonged curtain calls and strong ticket sales and reviews, SFB in Paris has been a resounding success.

Ten years ago, SFB inaugurated the Les Etes de la Danse festival and I remember with fondness Yuri Possokhov’s final performances. A decade later, this summer marks the last performances of two more great dancers, Damian Smith and Ruben Martin Cintas with SFB. Backstage watching Damian and Yuan Yuan Tan perform the pas de deux’s from Wheeldon’s After the Rain and Ghosts for the last time will remain some of my favorite memories of their unforgettable partnership.

Also unforgettable on this tour was the programming, a unique schedule unlike any other I have ever performed in my 14 years at SFB. Of the 18 ballets that we brought to Paris (not including gala pieces), each were presented in a different order and paired with different ballets every night. We’re used to set programs at home where we perform the same program in the same order for one or two weeks in a row. Here, the matinee show would be three (or sometimes four) different ballets than the evening show, and then the next day another three ballets. For me at least, it was kind of fun–never the same show twice–and it forces you to be adaptable and comfortable with any ballet in any situation. So even when they changed some programs in the last week it was no big deal. The hardest part was actually just remembering what ballets we were dancing that night! The running joke was that we didn’t even know what ballets we were in until the costume showed up in our dressing room. Even our stage managers began a “Plat du Jour” sign backstage to keep us all on the same page.

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Our backstage “Plat du Jour”

Also strong in my memory of this tour will be dancing Hans van Manen’s Solo and Alexi Ratmansky’s Symphony #9. Solo is a short piece for three men in alternating solos, set to the Bach solo violin Sonatas and Partitas. It’s a challenging piece that is supposed to look effortless and carefree, while the execution of it is anything but. The steps themselves are not that difficult, but the combination and speed with which it needs to be danced and the precision of the musicality make it an intense seven minutes. There is one section where I do a big menage (circle) kind of quickly skimming the floor, and for a split second I am able to look out into the audience and feel generous with my spirit and port de bras. I can forget all the little details of life and ballet, and just give myself over to the music. It’s an unforgettable split second.

Another moment that sticks in my brain is the opening of Symphony #9. #9 is a different type of ballet with more characterization, even though it is still an abstract work. The curtain opens with me alone on stage, standing on center center (the exact center of the stage), ready to jump into action with the downbeat of Martin’s baton. Even though I’m standing still, I’m trying to fill the stage with my presence and gather the public’s attention…and then it begins. The cliched phrase “shot out of a cannon” could not be more applicable. Moments later, I find myself panting in the wings, wondering “What just happened?” and “Did it go well?” It’s all pretty much a blur. But a fun blur. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

These are just a couple of the stand out memories I’ll take away from the last month. There are plenty of others, including passing Notre Dame and the Fountaine St. Michel every day on the bus to work, successfully ordering in French without the waiter resorting to English, nutella crepes, trying to stay cool in the non-air conditioned dressing rooms, visiting the Musee Marmottan and Monet’s water lilies, enjoying the immensely talented street performers (Including this band I found wandering the Marais district, playing “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” the theme from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, one of my favorite movies), marveling at the popularity of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and strolling by Renoir’s studio in Monmartre.

All in all, memorable. It’s been fun. See you back in SF.

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Close to the Finish Line

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We are close to the finish line and it has been such an exciting tour for so many reasons that I mentioned in my first blog. I have three more ballets to dance and I’m very happy to have picked up my family at the airport this morning—they are coming to see my last performance here on Thursday–so another big support group will be there.

It has been a really great tour because the audience has been great and all my friends and family have been so impressed by the quality of our dancing and also by the diversity of our repertoire. I believe no other company has done what we’ve done here in Paris, performing 18 ballets plus the gala, over such a relatively short time. Dancing so many different works over a short period like we do during our three and a half month season is a hallmark of the Company and we’ve been up to the challenge! French people think that America puts quantity over quality but with SF Ballet, they can see that its quality and quantity—both are possible. Now I will spend some vacation in south of France with my family, enjoying my family, friends, food, wine, and sun. For me, it’s been an incredible experience to share with my family and the French audience, what I do the best.

Pascal Blog Photo

Pascal Molat in Zanella’s Alles Waltzer (copyright Erik Tomasson)

 

 

 

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Bonjour from Paris!

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We’re just finishing the final week of our performances here in Paris and the tour has been great! It’s been almost a month since I left with the Company to travel to Spoleto, Italy on the first leg of SF Ballet’s tour. The main difference between the two engagements is that the Spoleto Festival venue was outdoors so shooting outside was especially nice since the weather was warm. The theater in Spoleto doesn’t have a permanent backstage–there were no side lights so it was more like a concert venue than a formal theater. Read More »

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Le Théâtre du Châtelet

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By now we’re deep in our second week of performances at the Chatelet Theater in the heart of Paris, and we’re as busy as ever with rehearsals and performances. It’s a beautiful theater to work at every day, and although I do love the War Memorial Opera House back home, there’s something majestic about looking out from the stage at the archways and ornate decorations on the walls and ceilings here. The rings climb upwards to a fifth level and create almost a “wall” of audience that makes the public feel very close. From the house it feels like an intimate venue even though it seats 2,500. The acoustics are amazing and the orchestra sounds so clear and vibrant, maybe it has something to do with the bare wood floor. One also feels intimate with history here, in the theater and in all of Paris for that matter. The Ballets Russes premiered Stravinsky and Fokine’s Petroushka at the Chatelet in 1911, and Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Mahler, Strauss, and Debussy all conducted their own work here as well. We are just across the street from Notre Dame cathedral, and we are literally steps away from the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisioned before she met the guillotine. Its something remarkable to dance in a theater and a city like this, where you feel a part of the history of art and human existence!

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The only challenge about dancing at the Chatelet, however, is the fact that the stage is raked! Like many other theaters around the world, the stage is angled toward the audience, thankfully here at only a 1% grade. I remember dancing at the Palais Garnier 14 years ago, where the rake must be at least 5%, and it was so difficult to dance, especially to pirouette! Pirouetting on a rake is definitely more difficult, but not impossible, we just have to adapt and hold our weight in a different way. This week I finally feel a little more secure, compared to the first few days where I felt like I was on a moving ship every time I would turn!

Last night we opened Hummingbird for the Parisian audience, Liam Scarlett’s beautiful new ballet that we premiered in San Francisco last season. I think its safe to say it went over very well as we bowed for what felt like 10 minutes! Its a favorite piece of mine to dance, it combines classical technique with contemporary sensibilities in a way that makes sense to me. And the choreography is very musical, which makes it such a pleasure to dance (and watch!). Liam was here for rehearsals and the performance (London is only a train ride away), so the evening felt special, almost like a second world premiere.

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Tonight for me is another performance of Mark Morris’ Maelstrom, and the company also performs Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, and Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces, which brought the house down two days ago. Let’s hope it has the same effect tonight!

A tout a l’heure!

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