04 October 2015
Translation: Bertrand de Miollis: A Painter’s Trip to the Opera
This article by Antoine Michelland was originally published in Point de Vue on September 14, 2015 in French.
From Lake Baikal at -30°C to the conflict in Afghanistan, this insatiable artist weaves together extreme situations and projects that are a little crazy. With his accomplice, Olivier Delvaux, he is the first painter in a century to risk a long-term immersion in the world of ballet at the Paris opera house. For an astonishing dance on canvas, the story by Point de Vue.
An atelier that almost touches the Parisian sky. Everywhere, tubes of paint, palettes layered with all the colors of creation. And paintings, canvasses and boards, small, large, medium, dozens of paintings, where the dancer from The Young Man and Death smokes a cigarette, where from the shadows of backstage, subjects and leading dancers observe the fluid steps of the ballet troupe under the lights.
Painting the Opera
Leaning on a stack of frames, Bertrand de Miollis searches for the ones that would be suitable for his initial sketches. "It all began in 2013 with the 300th anniversary of the Paris Opera," says this eternal youth with eyes the color of the ocean and a shock of hair tousled by the winds of adventure. "The event intrigued me and made me want to explore this Garnier palace in the middle of Paris, enormous and mysterious, to penetrate its codes and return them to a state that corresponds with how I perceived them. In short, to go on a nice trip." Bertrand wrote to Brigitte Lefèvre, then dance director for the Paris National Opera. She gave him carte blanche.
For more than a year, he would live inside the walls, infuse himself with the designs, rehearsals, shows, both on- and backstage. Bertrand shared this adventure with another painter, Olivier Desvaux. "We had already worked together following John Eliot Gardiner and his musicians. We complemented each other perfectly. Olivier is more interested in working with what goes on in the rehearsal studios, with natural lighting, while I am more interested in what goes on on-stage, the lighting design, choreography, vibrations, movement, and the emotion that it all releases.
The Voyage as Inspiration
The experience proved to be as fascinating as it was complex, a real lesson of work, discipline and humility, "virtues that the dancers, for whom art is an absolute demand, inspired in us. Sometimes I would put my easel three meters away from them in an effort to forget myself, most often in the dark, painting with a headlamp, looking for the right angle, the current that would lead me to the heart of the story, watching for the contrast between the beating bodies and a rather frozen set. It's necessary to be able to grasp the immediacy of a gesture, the vivacity of the rhythm, the ephemeral harmony of the moment. I would have never been able to take on the challenge if I did not already have 15 years of travel notebooks behind me."
It's true. There is nothing ordinary about Bertrand de Miollis's journey. He descends from a councilor in the parliament of Provence; in his family tree, we also find a general who fought in the American Revolution, as well as the bishop Bienvenu de Miollis, who inspired Hugo to write the character of Mr. Myriel in Les Misérables. On his mother's side, there are many artists. However, Bertrand initially went to business school and then took up marketing at L'Oréal, "before being struck by a furious appetite for travel and paintbrushes at the age of 30."
His direction? Art school and other places on Earth, his sketchbook in hand. From Saigon to Saint-Malo on a junk, around Africa or in Iraq with the journalist Arnaud de La Grange, at the four corners of the planet with Sylvain Tesson and the photographer Thomas Goisque ... never stopping developing his artistic vision in the service of luxury brands nor coming up with evermore more personal projects and challenges. Among the most unusual of these is his journey into the intimate depths of the Paris Opera.
The Third Stage Project
Bernard turns his gaze equally on all the ballets, whether classical or contemporary, of Swan Lake, The Story of Manon, The Lady at Camélias, Park, The Song of the Earth or Darkness is Hiding Black Horses. "The pitfall of the classical repertoire is ending up with a bad Degas. You need to bring something personal and current to a subject that has already been broached by a master. I focused on the luminous trace, the long pose, human breathing in a world of contrasts. The long period of time was suitable to this work and allowed me to enter into the rather closed circle of the dancers, to tame them little by little."
The new dance director, Benjamin Millepied, also showed interest in Bertrand's process, which echoes his third stage project for virtual design on the web. "I used a digital palette to capture movements in flight and touches of color. This process of digital painting, instinctual and available on-screen, could feed this third stage."
Meanwhile, Bertrand de Miollis is displaying his oil paintings at the Taylor Foundation until September 26, 2015. It's an opportunity to see dance escape the walls of the opera, to contemplate the canvasses full of stars, to discover the magic of an attitude, an atmosphere, a choreography, like the ghostly procession of the gardeners who carry Aurélie Dupont who has fainted in Park. Let the emotion overtake you.
Dance In All Its States, an exhibit of the painters Bertrand de Miollis and Olivier Desvaux, Taylor Foundation, 1, rue La Bruyère, 75009 Paris, Tel.: 01 48 74 85 24. 2 pm to 8 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, through September 26, 2015.