“Karl Paquette is the male dancer with Emilie. I worked very closely with the choreographer Sebastien Marcovici, who is Benjamin Millipied’s right hand man.”
“Karl Paquette is the male dancer with Emilie. I worked very closely with the choreographer Sebastien Marcovici, who is Benjamin Millipied’s right hand man.”

Near the beginning of “La Grand Sortie,” a characteristically stylish short film the Los Angeles photographer Alex Prager directed for the Paris Opera Ballet, the dancer Émilie Cozette is preparing to step out onstage when she hears a sound, a muffled thump that is divorced from the orchestral stirrings in the pit. It’s a small thing, really, but it’s enough to throw her off her game. She flinches, and draws a pinched little breath that says more than any dialogue could. “I understand stage fright very well,” says Prager, who opened her first solo exhibition in Paris on October 19, at the Galerie des Galeries. (The new short is on view there.) “And it’s not just onstage. I feel anxiety towards anything important, even shoots."

As Cozette’s routine unfolds, this thin fissure in her performer’s armor widens to let in a holy terror that takes over her mind: She begins to lock in on faces in the audience. Her breath runs ragged. The score (by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich) amps up the drama to a Black Swan frenzy. It’s the species of scare that can incapacitate anyone, especially a dance company’s étoile, around whose precise movements the entire production revolves. “I’ve felt this myself,” explains Prager, who says the sensation is present in all her short films, which have starred the likes of Jessica Chastain and Rooney Mara. “That anxiety and anticipation and emotion just builds and builds until I get to the point where I don’t know if my body can contain it. It’s the moment you feel closest to death.”

“Alex Prager” is on view through January 23, 2016, at the Galerie des Galeries in Paris. “La Grand Sortie” will also be on view at Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York, in fall 2016.