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Paris: In the footsteps for more famous dancers

by Mary Pat Robertson, February 23-24

If you’ve been following my audition travels this year, you may remember that I enjoyed seeing Fred Astaire’s footsteps on a misty Saturday evening in Los Angeles. My greatest pleasure in Paris is exploring new parts of the city (new to me, that is!). Our audition site this year, Studio Harmonic, was in the 11me arrondissement, so that was fun to explore a bit in this formerly working class district which is now home to many artists and dance studios. It was bitterly cold in Paris, even snowing every day, which is so unusual for them. Thank goodness I took my hat!I also spent some time exploring what used to be called “la nouvelle Athenes.” This area, between the Opera Garnier and Montmartre, was home to most of the dancers and musicians, and many of the painters and writers, of the great Romantic era, hence its name of “the new Athens.” I feel so lucky to have lived in New York City during the seventies, a golden age of dance in that city. We hear so much about an earlier golden age, Paris in the 1920’s, when the American writers and European painters were forging the modernism that dominated the 20th century arts. But the early 19th century also belonged to Paris, as ballet, literature, music, and painting leaped forward into the Romantic era. Informed by the passion for the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome that followed the French Revolution, the arts bodied forth the dualism of the light, Apollonian, formalistic instincts, countered by the dark, Dionysian expressive instincts . Out of this wonderful dichotomy emerged some of the great works that still dominate our balletic repertory, such as “Giselle” and “La Sylphide.”

Following the suggestions of a new little guide we had with us (see below), we explored some of the courtyards of this arts district of long ago. We visited the Square d’Orleans (left photo), a still-beautiful apartment complex built in the 1830’s. Marie Taglioni lived here, as did Frederic Chopin, Georges Sand, and many other famous artists of the time. Its classic proportions and white stone felt like apartment complexes from the early 20th century, in Washington, D.C. But we realized that that is because both it and they had as their architectural antecedent the grand buildings of Athens and Rome. Speaking of which, I can’t wait for my workshop and audition in Rome in a couple of weeks!

(Paris: Secret et Insolite, par Rodolphe Trouilleux. Editions Parigramme)

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