Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Alex Prager brings the aesthetics of the entertainment industry to New York this month with her third solo show at contemporary art gallery Lehmann Maupin (September 7-October 23). The US premiere of La Grand Sortie, the short film Prager made last year for the Paris Opera Ballet’s digital channel, will show alongside a series of photographs ($20,000-$100,000) she took while making the film in Paris.
Exhibiting film and photography together gives viewers the experience of seeing the performance simultaneously from the perspective of the actor and the audience; Prager’s intention is to expose the perpetual tension between the two sides.
The opening reception will feature live ballet solos of original choreography to Bohuslav Martinů’s Film en Miniature. The dancers will be among the crowd (second picture), further articulating the relationship between watching and performing. Just as she often does in her photographs, it seems Prager is looking to mix the appreciative admiration and removed judgment experienced by a viewer with a frisson of voyeurism and sense of instant intimacy.
La Grand Sortie was filmed at Opéra Bastille and shows the human side of a prima ballerina whose returning night as a star is blighted by stage fright. A nightmare unfolds as the ballerina, played by Emilie Cozette (first picture), falters through her steps before melodramatically disappearing in a puff of pantomime smoke, presumably at the point where her subconscious can bear no more. The piece serves as a readily accessible metaphor for everyday performance anxiety. Despite the pervasive angst, it also offers plenty of fun.
The choreography was adapted from Paris Opera Ballet former creative director Benjamin Millepied’s piece for the company, Amoveo, set to a score composed by Radiohead’s producer Nigel Godrich. For La Grand Sortie, Godrich sampled Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, considered so progressive when first performed in Paris in 1913 that it provoked outrage from the audience, whose rioting became so loud that the dancers struggled to hear the orchestra. Godrich’s reformatting over 100 years later allows Stravinsky’s phrasing to heighten the sense of life’s absurd drama that Prager achieves through her incisive visual compositions.