Behind the Scenes: La Grande Sortie

Behind the Scenes: La Grande Sortie

Alex Prager

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.

Photos: Behind the Scenes: La Grande Sortie

“I had never done anything in dance before. I had no idea what I was getting into. It ended up being a much bigger production than I imagined. So I’m actually glad I didn’t know.”

“I did a little ballet, and a little tap. I still remember some of my tap moves. But The Red Shoes is one my favorite movies—it’s had a huge impact on everything that I do.”

“I couldn’t audition the dancers beforehand, but because Emilie is from one of the biggest ballet groups in the world, I assumed she could also act. Ballet is a performance, and she’s one of the most precise professionals I have ever met.”

“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.”

“I really wanted the backdrop to be green, but my production designer in Paris kept sending sketches back with the backdrop blue. Finally, one day I was like, ‘This must be a fucking language barrier!’ So finally I asked him. And it turns out that in France it’s bad luck to have the stage be green, because in the past green had a toxin in it that was said to have killed actors. And of course I thought, Now it has to be green!”

“I had a still photographer documenting everything behind the scenes, but I was also making pictures with my film camera for my exhibition next year at Lehmann Maupin.”

“Emilie’s hair and makeup had to get more unraveled as she unraveled. So I kept spraying her with a water bottle and messing up her eyebrows. And we pushed the camera closer and closer in on her—something you never see in ballet on TV—until she becomes a crazy person.”