It’s the Paris Opera Ballet’s opening night and Émilie Cozette, the company's étoile – the French version of the prima ballerina – is set to make her big debut after an unexplained hiatus. The curtain rises, and a rendition of Stravinksy’s The Rite of Spring, composed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, begins to play. As Cozette begins to perform choreography adapted from Benjamin Millepied’s Amoveo, stage fright takes over as one by one, a string of random audience members somehow end up on stage with her, before her worst nightmare takes place.
The story is drawn from a ten-minute short film, La Grand Sortie, the focus of Los Angeles-based artist Alex Prager’s exhibition of the same name, on view at Lehmann Maupin’s Lower East Side location until 23 October. Coincidentally, the film was also Cozette’s official return to the stage. 'In my film I had written her character as an étoile ballerina who had been mysteriously absent for the past year and this was going to be her first performance since she had come back,' said Prager. 'When I started speaking with Émilie I discovered that she had in reality just been absent for a year and her performance in my film was going to be her first performance since she came back.' To mark the opening night, a ballet dancer performed in the space. The exhibition also includes a series of large-scale photographs that depict the audience members, some of whom are former Paris Opera Ballet dancers, from various vantage points. In them, we see faces of boredom, amusement and wonder. A few dummies are even scattered about, adding an element of amusement to the images. There is also a series of haunting photographs of Cozette as she performs.
Prager relates the protagonist’s experience to her own as an artist. 'I felt that through my own experiences with public speaking, it was a powerful subject that I was sure others would be able to relate to,' she explains. 'If not exactly through stage fright, through a more basic line of the mind turning against you to the point that it becomes so powerful that it can sabotage even your greatest love, and the question of who will win that battle.'