In September of 2023, the Opéra National de Paris, one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world, extended an invitation to JR, a renowned artist, to collaborate on a unique project that would transform the scaffolding of the Palais Garnier as part of its renovation project. The installation, named Retour à la Caverne, is part of JR’s trompe l’oeil creations that have already taken over several iconic sites, such as the Louvre Museum and the Farnese Palace in Rome. This installation is designed to offer visitors an immersive experience in a geological universe that evokes the origins of song and dance in Ancient Greece.
Until the 6th century BC, the Greeks paid tribute to their deities by organising lively cavern gatherings. As the years went by, these festivities grew in size and scope, resulting in the development of amphitheatres and playhouses in urban areas. This evolution gave rise to the modern-day theatrical performances that we enjoy today.
The project’s first act, L’entrée de la Caverne, is an allusion to the stage sets of epic operas by Berlioz or Wagner and the romanticism of the 19th century. This installation appears to be in ruins, reflecting the fragility and eternity of Parisian monuments. It can also be interpreted as a piece of art in permanent construction. Visitors were invited to peer inside, invoking Plato’s allegory of the cave, which suggests that the exit leads to knowledge and an understanding of the world.
For four nights in September, the cave was brought to life through projections in the Place de l’Opéra.
In contrast to the first Act of Retour à la Caverne, which blended classical architecture with archaic geological structures to depict the origins of ballet and opera, Act II takes us back even further in time. This act showcases the cavern as the birthplace of cave art, with the scattering of handprints across the trompe l’oeil anchoring this idea which hundreds of people participated in the creation by making prints of their hands during the Mano Habilis workshop.
On Sunday, November 12th, the public is invited to the cave’s opening, where its secrets will be revealed for one exceptional evening. At 7 pm and 9 pm, two free performances will occur in front of the Opéra National de Paris. Place de l’Opéra will be closed to traffic, allowing the streets to become the people’s auditorium.
The performance features 153 dancers who will be performing CHIROPTERA, choreographed by Damien Jalet, with Amandine Albisson as the soloist. Music composed by Thomas Bangalter accompanies the performance and will last approximately twenty minutes.
As you delve into Act II of Retour à la Caverne, imagine yourself as a fearless spelunker and equip yourself with a trusty headlamp, eagerly searching for the hidden treasures within the cave. Allow the beam of light to guide you through the twists and turns, illuminating the path to discovery and adventure.
Image copyright JR