"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in dance (4)


A Dance to the End of Summer

While it was an Italian invention, the French took to ballet like canards to l'eau. Catherine de Medici, the Italian who married French king Henry II, and who was responsible for much of the French Renaissance in art, and culture, and architecture, was ballet's first major patron in France; but Louis XIV, a passionate dancer whose nickname "Sun King" came from a 12-hour ballet in which he danced five different roles, cemented its place in French history and culture.



But this post is not about ballet.



It's about choreography, the kind of subtle choreography we're learning to see in Paris, where it seems that not only individuals dance to their own internal drummers, but even groups are often arranged by some master choreographer like Balanchine, or the Sun God, Apollo.



Richard and I will be standing on a Metro platform and there, across the tracks, a sudden rearrangement of waiting Parisians becomes a dance of its own. If he's quick, he can capture these moments in the Metro, in the streets, at cafés. If not, at least we saw the moment, and, like rainbows, we know they'll reappear when the angle and the light are right.



Here then, some of the choreography we've noticed, from soloists, duos, or ensemble players. Call it Paris Play's dance to the end of summer. May you keep an eye out for your town's tangos, tarantellas, or full-out ballets, and enjoy them as much as we do.




A Chorus Line


Channeling his inner Gene Kelly



A mosh pit


Sometimes, your hair can dance for you


A dog who thinks he's a cat


Dances with not-quite wolves




Street art by Miss-Tic













Rites of Spring

To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak. --Hopi saying


Spring has arrived, fickle and schizoid here in Paris. One day summer, next day winter. Sometimes one minute summer, one minute winter.

And with spring comes hordes of tourists, and the ubiquitous buskers. And photographers to chronicle them; in this case Paris Play's staff photographer trying out a newly refurbished 35mm 1.8 prime lens on the Nikon. 

Good Friday, time to honor the death of the god, who, in the case of the Christian faith, will arise just a few days later to taste the chocolate bunnies. The cycle of death and rebirth, a staple feature of myth and religion, also calls Dionysus, precursor of Christ, to mind.



This Carnaby Street-influenced Dionysus unsheathed his guitar (a later variant of Hermes' lyre) at the plaza in front of Notre Dame and quickly drew a small crowd. They began, as Maenads have since time immemorial, spontaneously dancing, much to his delight.

And they grew wilder.

And wilder.

All this within thirty seconds.



Of course, it is illegal to busk, and to break out in dance, in front of Quasimodo's cathedral. Years ago, when we were young and looked like this, and similarly gathered in Vina del Mar Park, the small downtown square in Sausalito, California, the city fathers had an easy remedy: they closed the park to ANYONE for the next thirty years. A generation. That'll teach those hippies. And their children.

Here in Paris, they don't close the Notre Dame Parvis, but they can stop the dance.



Lest we seem to demonize the officer in question, seconds after giving the busker the bum's rush (he left politely, as did the Maenads), she was back to graciously performing one of her other duties, advising a pair of tourists how to get from point A to point B in this radial and confusing city. Good cop/bad cop all in one package. Another daily Paris Play.





Fairies in Pastel

Gold balconies. Plush red seats. A spectacular painted curtain in burgundy and gold, with a real rope pull.

We’ll look at the Marc Chagall ceiling later. Who are the gold figures on either side of the stage? Are they muses? Gods and goddesses? Richard thinks one could be Dionysus, with a mask of drama raised above his face.

The curtain rises. The orchestra music swells. Four blue fairies come springing out onto the stage. I’m flooded with tears. They are so light, so quick, and the music mirrors their leaps. One princess in white dances among them. Eight women in various pastel colors circle her. A fairy in pale yellow-green arrives.



Tears for the artistry of the French. Tears for our friend who is ill. Tears for the nine months of a neighbor who won’t be reasonably quiet “because she doesn’t feel like it,” and who’s hurting our sleep. Tears for someone I love who told me to stop writing this journal, and focus on fiction. Tears for all the women who for centuries have been silencedtold by their husbands or families not to work, to serve them instead.

Isn’t it strange how beauty can release sadness?

The yellow and blue fairies dash about the stage. A man in brown-green, a forest man, comes out among the trees made of ropes, and plays hide and seek with a blue fairy with a few sparkles on his skin.

Two by two, Cossacks in Russian fur hats and fitted coats and boots, march forth, followed by Cossack maidens. Okay, now we’re seeing Christian Lacroix’s costuming genius. Their skirts are orange and red and gold, with soft red boots.



He has interwoven brocade patterns that look perfectly Russian, and also like the dresses he designed as a couturier.

Out comes a carriage, a stylized version of Cinderella’s pumpkin, and a tragic female emerges, looking like a nineteenth century European version of an “Oriental” woman. Hot pink top with gold thread. Turquoise skirt with silver thread. A gold diadem atop her head crowned with a fuchsia pom-pom.

Twelve maidens dance all around her in long kerchiefs, Cossack costumes and soft red boots that you can dance in. That seems like a feat in itself, to make shoes that look like boots, but allow dancers’ feet to be en pointe

A proud Cossack comes out on stage (you know he’s proud because he keeps holding out his arms straight, palms open in a gesture of Watch it, I’m in charge here). He dances with the Cossack princess, romantic, flirting, then with closed fists.

Then he does one of those Russian dances where you spin around and around. (I don’t, but apparently Russians do.)



Then, the princess points to a flower hanging from what looks like an orchid tree, suspended in the middle of the forest stage. The proud prince tries to climb up to get it, but his arms aren’t strong enough. He’s wasted all his energy on clenching his fists and pushing people away.

But the forest man can. He climbs up the rope and plucks a flower and hands it to the Cossack princess.

The prince is pissed, and fights with the forest guy, kills him, and puts the princess in the carriage and huffs off. 

A white fairy princess dances out from behind a tree, picks up the fallen orchid and brings it to Forest Man. He slowly revives. She cradles the flower, he reaches for it, she dances away. They dance together; he lifts her into the air. He is a tree. She is a swan.   

More fairies in white appear and circle the forest man. They dash away. Twelve more fairies emerge and all dance around the forest man and the white fairy princess.

The blue fairies and the yellow one join the dance, and then the yellow one passes the orchid to the white fairy princess, and threatening music begins.

Act One is over.

There is too much to see at the Opéra Garnier. It’s like walking around Versailles. You have to get a book to decipher all of its history and splendor, and luckily Richard finds one in the gift shop before we leave.

Act Two is full of intrigue, seductions and counter-seductions, so that you really don’t know who will win the Cossack woman’s heart at the end, the forest man, the proud prince, or Genghis Khan who only has about nine women already in his harem. But you can guess.



Later I learn that the proud prince was actually the Cossack woman’s brother, and that he was delivering her to the Khan. What I still didn’t understand was why one of the characters had to die. But I’m not going to ruin it for those of you who still haven’t seen La Source. This 1866 ballet was enchanting, but I did notice that all these women ever thought about was love. Didn’t they sometimes long for something to do?



And afterwards, we had drinks with two great friends who had invited us to spend his birthday at the ballet. We talked about boating around the rivers of Ireland. We talked about their plan to live part of the time in Paris. We talked about our beloved friend who is ill. We talked about my new challenge (inspired by TWO fairies), which is writing 1,000 stories in three years. A story a day, with one month off per year. I’m only on Day Three. But here’s my question: if those fairies in pastel could grant you a wish for your own work, your own artistry of whatever sort, what would it be? 

I’m asking a serious question here. I want to hear your answers. What else can possibly balance all the suffering in the world if not work? 

Oh yes, and love.



The pastel dancers in this article are from the streets of Paris, courtesy of the street artist Miss Tic.




Danse of the Gods

We walk a half-hour through rain, wet from shoes to hair. I do not

care. We find the building off the Avenue de l’Opéra. In the foyer

are milling young—a few Adonises and nymphs.


A bulletin board: Mythologie Conférence, Rez-de-chausée, Salle

zéro[1]. We climb a flight of stairs, pass a mural of vigorous

muscular youths circa the ‘20s, doing calisthenics for the state.

We peek in a room, see dancers at the barre.



Richard darts into the bathroom.


I peek again.  A miffed French woman with slicked back hair appears: “Nous

n’avons pas fini cette classe![2]


Richard returns. We go up. We ask a woman if she knows the way

to the myth room. Down below, she thinks.


We go down to the basement. A Zen teacher smiles peace into us,

but Richard cannot feel it. He feels lost.


Up we go again. Wrong room.


Down we go to the main floor. I open a door that leads outside. Richard

snaps his fingers at me, as if I were a dog. I know it’s just stress. I follow him

into a small dark room with a mirror covering one wall. An empty dance



A small Asian man enters. A tall heron of a teacher bustles in,

turns on the lights, sets up a slide projector and arranges notes on a

desk.  One by one, men enter. One looks like an accountant in a

short-sleeved shirt. Another is pudgy, shifty. There’s a young,

sleepy Frenchman.


We unstack the folding chairs, Richard and I at the back. Am I the only

woman in Paris who loves myth?


The lecture begins. Slides on the screen. Hermes has wings on his

hat, his caduceus, his shoes. He is “légèreté de l'être, rapidité,

l'échange d'énergie, mais pas commercial, nonL'échange

d'énergie spirituel, comme dans les secrètes d’Égypte[3],” or

something like that.



This teacher understands the essence of these êtres divins[4]. Here is

Zeus, king of the gods, bearded, powerful, gripping his

thunderbolt. As Monsieur speaks of Zeus, the rumbling overhead

gathers in volume—a stamping of feet in a ballet class, or the

god’s thunder? A back window blows open behind us. One man

moves to close it. It opens again. Another man closes it harder. It

opens to the rain and noise of the sky and the street. Another man

closes it. It opens again. Zeus will not be shut out. We surrender.



Here is Athéna, snake-haired Medusa on her shield. Perseus cut off

her head, freeing Pegasus, the winged horse of poetry. Athéna has

a creature on her helmet, resting on its haunches. Is it a lion? A



Athena and Ares 

And here is Hephaestus, the ugly god. His mother, Hera, dropped

him from Olympus, and he limps, ankles broken. He is heavy,

lourd, and he works with heavy things, iron, making weapons, also

jewelry for the goddesses, lovely things for his wife, Aphrodite.


Look at Aphrodite! In this painting I’ve never seen, she is all milky

skin with pink blush, up on clouds like swans, and swans are riding

the clouds.


Her lover is Ares, god of action, of muscular body and war.

(I think of him as the god of Italy, its shape a boot for walking, 

exploring, and hunting booty.)


Apollo is here in a painting with Daphne, who chose to become a

laurel tree, rather than sleep with him. A laurel wreath is now the

crown of achievement. He is inner beauty, says Monsieur. (But

I thought he was more a communal god of music and harmony.)



And here is Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Of the purity of nature.

Of cleanliness and chastity. When Actaeon happened upon her as

she was bathing, she turned him into a stag, and his own hounds

tore him apart.



And here is another painting I’ve never seen, of Hestia—ample-

bodied, in long dress, leaning against an altar holding a flame.


I am thrilled to hear his subtle understanding of this family I know

so well. Thrilled that I can understand much of what he’s saying.


Now he takes questions. First to wave his hand is the pudgy man

who’s been sneaking peeks at himself in the ballet mirror

the whole lecture. He asks a meandering question

about Aphrodite (of course!): “Elle, elle Aphrodite ... la bataille

entre le feu et l'eau .. la guerre à l'intérieur de nous ... les cygnes

la suite de son ... Zeus un cygne, un cygne ... Ares ai eue aussi, un

combat intérieur de ma tête,”[5] and who knows what else.



It’s painful listening to this question that never ends. The lecturer

grows tense and so do we. He tries to answer the man and move on.


I’m the last to ask. I agree with him, I say, on Hermes being about

spiritual exchange, rather than, as many say, commercial.


He suggests I ask the question in English. He’ll translate for the

class. Dang, I was so happy to understand, but I still can’t

voice what I mean. I ask him later about the bag Hermes



“Is it the sac[6] d’un égrue?” He looks confused.


C’est un oiseau de l’eau[7],” I say. He doesn’t understand.


“Oh! Je veux dire, grue.[8]


“Crane! Oh!” He gets it. But he doesn’t know.


We talk about the next lecture.


“It’s next Monday,” he says.




But I forgot to ask, What was the animal on Athene’s head?

Who did the painting of Hestia? Who did the glorious Aphrodite

with white swan clouds?


The Invisibles take many forms in the imaginations of visionaries and artists

of every country, every time in history. The characters and shapes

of the goddesses and gods envisioned by the ancient Greeks have endured

over many centuries and miles. They still speak to us here today in Paris.


Hermes as Crane

[1] “Mythology Conference, Ground Floor, Room Zero.”

[2] “We have not finished this class!”

[3] “lightness of Being, speed, energy exchange, but not commercial, no! The exchange of spiritual energy, as in the secrets of Egypt.”

[4] “divine beings”

[5] “She, she Aphrodite … the battle between fire and water… the war inside us…the swans following her… Zeus a swan, a swan… Ares got her too, fighting a battle inside my head,”

[6] “bag”

[7] “It’s a bird of the water.”

[8] “I mean, crane.”