Bal du Centenaire
Tous Dehors, Bart & Baker
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 5 July
View photos here
The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées had its first succès de scandale a hundred years ago just weeks after it opened, when the world premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring incited the most infamous punch-drunk riot in the history of classical music. In 2013, concert halls and theatres the world over are commemorating that seismic moment, but Parisians haven’t forgotten where it all started, judging by the crowd that turned up dressed to the nines for the venue’s Bal du Centenaire in the first week of July.
No brawls or virgin sacrifices on this balmy Friday night: the theatre celebrated its birthday with a very different danse sauvage from the annals, tipping its top hat to Josephine Baker’s 1925 Paris debut (and riding on Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby coattails) with the salle de concerts transformed into a roaring twenties music hall for one night.
To make it all about me for a moment, as all good bloggers must, I felt a particularly personal sense of occasion: after all, it was a sort of premiere of my own in the city’s most elegant Art Deco theatre. There I was, barely unpacked a mere five days after relocating from Sydney to a 20m2 studio in Montparnasse, and my French marraine fée was whisking me off to a ball — more Cendrillon than La Baker, a debutante stepping out in Parisian society.
That said, admittedly, I stepped out with two left feet, and if I scandalised anyone it was by tripping over them. Doing their best to give me a wide birth as I stumbled to and fro, Parisians of all ages twirled, shimmied and rumbaed their way around the planche de danse constructed on the stage. One fleet-footed, silver-haired fox took pity and dipped me — that is, turned me dramatically upside down. Pearls, fringed hems and Edith Sitwell turbans brushed up against me. (Sadly, no banana skirt in sight.) I fanned my sweating man-bag with peacock feathers as he sank into a plush velvet seat; my heart sank when I spied two girls of around ten years old apiece who were not only better dancers than me but also more chicly attired.
The band was so taut and energetic that it hardly mattered. Windman Laurent Dehors’s nine-piece Tous Dehors had us kicking up our heels in authentic 1920s style, from the inevitable In the Mood via “un petit tour de Carmen” to Zez Confrey’s novelty charmer Kitten on the Keys (the latter’s piano cascades played by tubaist Bastien Stil, alternating comically between keyboard and hulking brass). On the other end of the size spectrum, I was delighted by Damien Sabatier’s solos on what I initially thought was a tiny tin whistle but turned out to be a “graille” (catalan oboe).
During a late intermission, waiting for the deuxième danse DJ set to get underway at midnight, revellers took to dancing in the street while front-of-house staff in top hats and capes sashayed across the marble floors inside. But the elation didn’t last long; Bart & Baker’s jazz remixes were old-fashioned (and not in the good way), Véronique Hubert’s video projections lamentably amateur. It was unclear what age bracket the theatre hoped to attract. Dancers dragged their feet. This Cendrillon promptly turned into a pumpkin. All night, the spotlight from the Tour Eiffel remained fixed on the theatre, one icon illuminating another. Joyeux anniversaire.
Things have calmed down a bit since The Rite of Spring premiere, then, but the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées remains one of Paris’s classiest and most beloved.
More centenary events at www.theatrechampselysees.fr