Backstage

Play: Alexander Ekman choreographs play

Photo coverage — By Nicolas Doutey and Ann Ray

Invited to the Palais Garnier for the first time, the choreographer Alexander Ekman is living in a dream: that of working with the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet! In order to plunge them into the universe of his piece, he invited them to play. After all, isn’t dance also entertainment, amusement, practice, exercise and manipulation? Here, play is everything and everywhere. From the props to the sets. For, as the choreographer repeats, play makes us happy; one should never stop being a child. In the Massenet and Blanchine studios, photographer Anne Deniau focusses on certain emblematic props from this production, whilst playwright Nicolas Doutey reflects upon these new visual compositions.


© Ann Ray / OnP

Composition with man on cube, doors, projector and yellow ball. Amongst all the other elements that he works with, Alexander Ekman pays particular attention to visual compositions in Play – sometimes, a chance repetition (as is the case here) also provides him with compositional perspectives.

© Ann Ray / OnP

“Let’s say that one is like a scientist, that one experiments on play in the laboratory.” The laboratory in question is the Massenet Studio, six floors down, in the basement of Opera Bastille; the notebook and the bottle of water are essential props. Alexander directs operations either from his chair or, more often, on stage: the game creates the desire to play, it’s a laboratory where you want to get right inside the test tube.

© Ann Ray / OnP

Balls of different sizes and colours, skipping ropes, a cage on wheels. If the one serves to store the others, it’s only because we are backstage: on stage, everything is a plaything, with or without balls.

© Ann Ray / OnP

“Try and find honesty in the game”, says Alexander frequently during rehearsals. You can’t just pretend to play: if you do, you’re not playing. This is doubtless the reason why, during the three-month rehearsal period, he wanted to give himself time for experimentation and research with the dancers, and with each one, their particular game space. There is a model, there are structures, there are lines, but each time the play is singular.

© Ann Ray / OnP

Hands are on the alert, some of them show it more than others, each in his/her own way. Feet, too, in comfortable trainers, like starting blocks. When one sits down in Play, the urge to play is never far away, one might be tempted to jump up at any moment.

© Ann Ray / OnP

The forty thousand plastic balls constituting the “swimming pool” in the second rehearsal room, the Balanchine Studio, have a particularly amusing characteristic: however one moves amongst them, there are always a couple that start flying about. Each movement creates its counterpoint in the air.

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