Ekman’s Play brings fun and frivolity to Paris Opera Ballet

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Play | Alexander Ekman | Paris Opera Ballet | Digidance | November 7 – 27, 2022

Astronauts, large spheres with legs, helmets with antlers, bubbles, balloons, ribbons, wheelbarrows, trampolines, and 40,000 green balls—just a few of the surrealist elements in Alexander Ekman’s playful work that combines live music, traditional and contemporary ballet, and countless props and visual elements to create a captivating spectacle.

I’ve never seen a ballet company having so much fun. Imagine diving into an orchestra pit full of green balls as if it transformed into a children’s ball pit. Many of Ekman’s visual elements could come across as mere gimmicks but there is a strong narrative element and a protagonist that leads us through the scenes to tie everything together.

Musicians and a stunning vocalist on a platform upstage accompany the action, while the row of doors beneath them allows the dancers to enter and exit in an unconventional way that in itself feels playful. From pretending to be a giraffe to tapping a microphone to mimic the sound of pointe shoes, the dancers have so much scope for improvisation. Their grins are authentic as they submit to the scenarios Ekman has devised.

Despite all the surreal fun and humour, there are a couple of scenes involving classical ballet, but much less than you would expect to see at the Paris Opera Ballet. The audience probably also isn’t accustomed to joining in the fun at the end of a performance as the dancers throw giant balloons and small balls into the audience. In the second act, there is some commentary on the mundanity of moving through the various levels of school and work and we hear Alan Watts saying, “Existence is basically playful; there’s no necessity for it whatsoever.”

Questioning the meaning of life, having as much fun as possible on stage, and turning an opera pit into a ball pit — what more could you ask for out of a contemporary ballet? 

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