Paris Opera Gala Returns With Powerful Performances

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The mood was buoyant on Friday evening as throngs of glamorous guests returned for the opening gala of the Paris National Opera’s dance season.

Last season’s fundraising event had been entirely virtual, so save for the omnipresent masks, it could have felt like the nights of old. “There have been so many [such] evenings over the years, so it’s wonderful to be back,” said Haider Ackermann, who was particularly looking forward to contemporary ballet “Brise-Lames,” imagined by choreographer Damien Jalet over lockdown and performed in front of a live audience for the first time that evening.

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French actress Alexandra Lamy wanted to “be transported. I just feel like being swept away because I’m not just ‘happy to be here,’ I’m over-excited,” she said as she ascended the stairs, decked in ribbons and opulent sprays of flowers.

It was the second night of revelry for the Parisian institution after the inaugural concert of its new musical director Gustavo Dudamel, who is also currently the music and artistic director the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“[Seeing] you all here attentive, curious feels so good. I first want to celebrate the joy, the one that comes with the stage, from dance, from simply being together,” said Paris Opera director of dance Aurélie Dupont in her opening speech, lauding the teams and performers who had continued to work behind shuttered doors. “It’s beautiful to be back, because reunions are marvelous.”

The program started with a procession of the ballet corps. Wave after wave of dancers appeared, starting with the youngest generations of students from the institution’s dance school, and up to its prima ballerinas, among which Sae Eun Park and Valentine Colasante, crowned with tiaras created by Chanel, a key partner of the annual fundraiser alongside Rolex.

By the first intermission, there was a shine of emotion in many eyes, including those of Golshifteh Farahani. “I told everyone I wanted to come [regardless of tiredness],” said the actress, who is still recovering from COVID-19 on top of a busy filming schedule where she reprises her roles both in sci-fi drama series “Invasion,” slated to premiere on Apple TV on Oct. 22, and in the sequel of the Chris Hemsworth-led action flick “Extraction.”

There were two contemporary productions on the program: “Clouds Inside,” by young American choreographer Tess Voelker, was loved for its romantic, feel-good beauty, while the nine-dancer “Brise-Lames” elicited more visceral reactions.

“I was moving a little on my seat and I was itching to join [the dancers] on stage. I really missed the human warmth of attending a performance and this direct access to beauty,” said French actress Cécile Cassel, who spent recent months dancing for the video clips matching the new music she released this summer under her stage name of HollySiz.

The passion on stage certainly spoke to fellow actress Ana Girardot, who is busy preparing for her upcoming role as French author Emma Becker, who went on a two-year embed in a brothel as narrated in her 2019 novel “La Maison” (“The House” in English).

“[Emma] is a woman who goes all the way in what she wants to live, without [needing to] hide from others,” said Girardot, who will also appear as a ’60s housewife who steps outside of her comfort zone in Amazon-produced French spy series “Totems.”

Wearing a glittering creation of his own, Ludovic de Saint Sernin wouldn’t have missed the evening for anything, even if his spring 2022 runway show is on Oct. 3. “I like to keep it healthy and balanced. The aim is not to have late nights and get everything done by dinner time,” he said, before slipping back into his seat to take in “Etudes,” a 1948 classic of the Paris Opera repertoire restaged by choreographer Thomas Lund.

This last part was a favorite of Dita von Teese, whose first appearance on the French edition of “Dancing With the Stars” was being broadcast the same evening. “I wouldn’t have stayed home to watch myself [on TV] because I’m hyper-critical of my own performances,” said the burlesque star, who was accompanied by her on-screen partner, French dancer and choreographer Christophe Licata.

Thunderous applause punctuated every appearance of the ballet corps, even as they took their seats at the dinner imagined by a cadre of buzzy Parisian chefs including Manon Fleury, Céline Pham, husband-and-wife duo Jessica Yang and Robert Compagnon, and orchestrated by hip culinary guide Le Fooding.

Under the gilded ceilings of the Opera Garnier’s salons, the tables groaned with flowers, much to the delight of guests who plucked them to serenade each other. Designer Vanessa Seward surveyed the proceedings with a keen eye, no doubt gathering material for her new project, a book on “gentlewomen, the true face of Parisians,” as she put it, which will be released early next year by publishing house JC Lattès.

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