You wouldn’t believe your eyes

By Beverley Knight

Share: Share:

How about transforming scaffolding on Paris’ Palais Garnier (possibly the most famous opera house in the world) into an artistic facade depicting the historical venue morphing into a cave? In September 2023, urban artist JR came along to give a time of renovation for Palais Garnier something to shout about with Retour à la Caverne. Fast forward to November 2023 for Act II and cue the multidimensional musician Thomas Bangalter and choreographer Damien Jalet to complete the masterpiece.

The project drew similarities to an opera libretto by being in two parts. Act I looked to the heroes of opera, Wagner and Berlioz, for direction. Although old buildings can become weary and tired, they hold hidden artistry; you can always find beauty in unbeautiful things. So, the modern scaffold and reconstruction of Palais Garnier became entwined into the overall vision.

Passersby in Paris admired the cave strolling up the Avenue de l’Opére. They felt transported to the very first theatres set in cavernous and rocky spaces in Ancient Greece – the birthplace of song and dance. Over four nights in September, all were welcome to see screenings projected onto the cave. These included Boléro by Maurice Béjart and an excerpt from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. It was a sight to behold, for sure, but it was only the half of it.

A few months later, Act II saw the cave marked with human handprints from hundreds of eager participants, casting a protective layer around the much-loved venue. Who would have known, all along, that the cave was acting metaphorically as a velvet red curtain, which, on 12 November, revealed JR, Damien Jalet, and Thomas Bangalter’s project, CHIROPTERA: a staggering performance with 154 dancers led by Amandine Albisson, the principal at the Paris Opera, in a Chanel-designed costume.

Twenty-five thousand people were in the audience, and twenty-five thousand were in awe. Albisson cast a mythical shadow that opened the performance, with dancers on all levels reaching 30 metres high. Jalet’s choreography represented the stories, poems, and imagery with hidden morales touched on in the projections of Act I. And, let’s come on to the music—Bangalter’s music.

It’s obligatory to mention Thomas Banglater, the founder of the French touch darling Daft Punk. But now, his new works and fresh artistic endeavours bubble to the top of people’s attention. It wasn’t that long ago he worked with his dear pal, director Quentin Dupieux, on the soundtrack for the film Daaaaaalí! With his family no strangers to the dance world, he created the score for ballet Mythologies in 2022. 

Altogether, there are nearly six hours of music for CHIROPTERA. Fans can listen to a chunk of it on digital platforms or vinyl via Bangalter’s imprint Alberts & Gothmaan. It’s a stormy, electronic number which sounds like a cross between Kaija Saariaho’s Vers toi qui es si Loin and The Oil by Hans Zimmer. Devine. 

To mark the release of CHIROPTERA, a sound installation called ALETHEIA 19 runs until 15 June at Perrotin. It displays 29 monophonic microgrooves cut on vinyl that play simultaneously but unsynchronised and is part of JR’s exhibition DANS LA LUMIERE. You could say art flows through the soul of Paris. And you’d be right. 

Follow JR

Follow Damien Jalet

Photos: Thomas Bangalter by Cedric Hervet