For the first time here in Paris, I went to the ballet. Or, I should say, I was practically in it. To be sure, I left my ballet slippers in my closet (yes I have some), but for my prèmiere visite to the Palais Garnier—Paris’s most opulent performance hall—my seat was in what’s called les baignoires, which literally translates to bathtub in English. This seat in said tub, however, felt more like sitting in a fishbowl because it was pretty much on the stage for all the rest of the audience to see. At least it felt like that at the start of the two-hour performance.
I booked the seat a mere day before, after talking to my favorite yoga teacher Benoit who is also a former ballet dancer. He mentioned that he was going to see this wild contemporary ballet called Play where there’d be a pool on the stage. I immediately left yoga class to look into buying tickets without so much as reading a review or watching a trailer. There weren’t many affordable seats left throughout its December run, so after texting with a few friends about dates, I decided to just pull the plug and treat myself to a solo outing the following night.
Off I went in the pouring rain wearing a dress because it’s the ballet at the Palais Garnier. To my delight, I saw men in suits and women who’d also primped for the occasion. Almost everyone checked their coat, so I did too. I admit, it definitely felt more glamorous to do so.
When I showed the usher my ticket, he looked at it and said, “à droite, tout vers la droite.” So I did as he told me and walked all the way to the right. Dubiously, I opened the last door and then almost immediately closed it after seeing a couple perched over what appeared to be the stage.
That can’t be it, I thought.
So I walked back towards the entrance and showed someone else my ticket. He said the same thing, along with something else I didn’t understand in French, so I went back and opened the door again.
These seats are practically on the stage, I said to myself.
I remember looking at the seat online and seeing the edge of the stage in front of me. Here, it goes further into the audience. I decided to be an adult and ask the couple already seated. They showed me their ticket and confirmed that yes, I was indeed in the right place.
I wasn’t sure whether to feel lucky or like a fool for paying €65 to sit in such an oddball seat. I couldn’t even really see the Chagall-painted ceiling without leaning over the ledge, which everyone in the standard seats could see me do.
But I didn’t care. Lean I did. After all, I was at the ballet! And practically on stage—a place I’d once dreamed of performing on until writing took hold and I became infinitely more comfortable being anonymous in the art I create. Still, I accepted my fate and settled in.
And what a fate it was.
Eventually, I learned that these seats are not traditionally on the stage. They’re close to it, but not on it. For this piece, however, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman had the stage extended (and painted white) to, at one point, descend and create an elaborate pool to be filled with green bouncy balls. That’s right, the type at Chucky Cheese that everyone—even adults—love jumping into with glee. (Until they realize all the snotty-nosed, pre-potty-trained toddlers may have too much fun in there… But I digress.)
Sitting in such a seat took some getting used to at first. Besides the fishbowl factor, it felt like I was watching individual performances rather than a collective whole. But eventually, I became absolutely mesmerized.
I was so close, I could see birthmarks on legs and whether the dancers had an innie or an outie bellybutton.
I was so close, I could hear them take a breath and catch them nearly miss clasping their partner’s hand.
I was so close, I could compare breast sizes and see sweat forming on foreheads.
I was so close, I could catch muscles contract and stagehands waiting in the wings.
I was so close, I could see some dancers lose themselves in the movement, and others look around for reassurance.
I was so close, I could see a strip of frosted purple hair, which put me into one of many reveries:
I wonder if it was a big deal to keep that strip. Like, did she have to ask if it was OK? Oh wait, that other girl has one, too. And that guy! He’s got one. I guess it’s not just her. It’s part of the costume. It’s part of the story. It’s part of the Play. I wonder if anyone else in the standard seats can see such a minute detail. I almost missed it myself and I’M SO CLOSE.
I was so close.
But more than the performance itself, which, in addition to bouncy balls featured bubbles and trampolines and wheel barrels and ballerinas wearing antlers, I really enjoyed being immersed in something so magical for an uninterrupted amount of time. I suppose my seat, which felt a part of the performance itself rather than outside it, probably allowed me to more easily escape to another world; one without screens and scrolling and notifications; without judgement and doubt and insecurities. While I’d be curious to see it again from another perspective, I felt so fortunate for my seat in the fishbowl-tub whose water soon clouded over.
That happened when a dancer dressed as a clown—complete with curly white wig, big white shoes and a somewhat scary smile—suddenly flipped over into the bagnoire and then popped his legs up along its ledge.
While the temptation to document this wild moment popped into my head for a quick second, it disappeared just as fast as I began to focus on the talented person performing right before my eyes. What did I need to photograph it for? To preserve the memory? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t forget it. There was certainly no need to prove it actually happened either. I saw it. I was in it. And it’s likely at least some audience members caught me in the act, too. Not that I could think about anyone else at that particular moment—not even the couple next to me. Just as I tuned out those around me, I bet the clown himself didn’t register me either. To him, I was but a mere shadow sitting in a seat used as a prop in his scene over on stage right. That’s how artists feel when expressing their talent: invisible, yet at the same time wholly exposed for the world to see.
Today, back here in my apartment no longer sitting on stage right—yet forever sitting on stage right—suddenly the words are writing themselves. It’s just me here, typing away to the silent buzz of the fridge, clowning around with language; smiling in my seat.