Tuesday, 8 July 2014

GUEST POST: Kristian Pellissier takes on France in the name of dance part un

Over the next few weeks, I will be travelling around France and the UK – partially in the name of dance and partially for pleasure. I wasn’t expecting to have the energy to see very much on my first day in the City of Lights. On the train from Charles de Gaulle into the city however, the violinist playing from car to car made for a romantic one-man welcoming committee and an early reminder of the ever-present beauty of this city.

For this portion of my visit, I’m staying near Metro Barbès - Rochechouart, where a large immigrant community colour the streets with beautiful pastry shops and seedy street selling: a heady mix of high and low. Arriving at my hostel, my first impression was that I had walked into a cramped brothel-cum-hairdresser. The lovely receptionist and a fabulously coiffed, surgically enhanced lady warmly welcomed me to the building, which sports a kitsch courtyard decorated by brightly coloured chairs and Italianesque statues, framed by street art portraits of Salvador Dali and The Pink Panther. A message is spray-painted onto the wall: ‘Enjoy Paris!’.

Dropping off my bags, I acquainted myself with the nearby area, walking along Boulevard de Rochechouart. Starting with the low brow, I stumbled across The Sexodrome, which offers sex paraphernalia of every description across multiple levels, including a dildo in the shape of the Eiffel tower called ‘La Tour est Folle’ (literally; the Tower is Crazy). This is not what I had in mind when I read the spray-painted sign. Further down the road, the Moulin Rouge doles out generous portions of sequins and high kicks to busloads of tourists. As much as I was enjoying the brief jaunt into the seedy, I moved off the main strip, fully aware of the more discreet and charming allure of nearby sights and sounds.

The entrance to the nearby metro station designed by Hector Guimard is a stunning example of Art Nouveau. Off the main boulevard, a myriad of cobblestone streets offer the smell of chestnuts and tantalising strains of accordion music. At the Visual Arts Biennial run by the Republic of Montmartre, a cross section of artists from the area are on display: beautiful paintings and sculptures, each an explosion of life and colour. A woman inside tried valiantly to coax her dog away from its new, plaster canine friend. Outside at the Paris Flea Market, an accordionist played Padam Padam, a classic chanson made famous by Edith Piaf. I could actually feel my heart simultaneously swelling and melting.

The afternoon continued with walks along tree lined pathways and gardens and ended with some people-watching at a tiny boulangerie, where I seemed to be the only foreign customer. I revelled in the opportunity to unashamedly people-watch, in the way that only seems possible while travelling. The first espresso and a handful of experiences under the belt, the next few weeks will be an exploration of the French dance scene: shows, the Montpellier Dance Festival and a talk at the World Dance Alliance Global Summit in Angers. Stay tuned.

Kristian currently works as a dancer, dance teacher, adjudicator and Program Officer for the Australia Council for the Arts. All images taken by the author.
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