The Paris Opera Ballet plays the Harris and the Pritzker Pavilion

Millennium Park screens a live simulcast of Giselle.

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Photograph: Anne Deniau
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Photograph: Icare
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Photograph: Anne Deniau

A year ago, after the Paris Opera Ballet announced its first U.S. tour in nearly 15 years—as well as its first appearance in Chicago—the Harris Theater’s board of trustees approached director of dance Brigitte Lefèvre with a proposition.

“We asked if they would consider a live simulcast of the Giselle performance,” says Michael Tiknis, the Harris Theater board’s president and managing director. “They said yes, but they were a bit nervous about how it would be done artistically and how to preserve the integrity of [the show].”

As a matter of assurance, the Harris flew a team of professionals from Staging Solutions, a Texas-based production company that oversees large-scale events, for a conversation with Lefèvre and Paris Opera chief administrator Olivier Aldeano. The meeting ended with a blessing. “The fact that we had done simulcasts for opera in the past was a big plus,” Tiknis says. “We’d never done it with a dance company, but they said, ‘Let’s go for it. It sounds like an exciting first for the Paris Opera Ballet.’ ” Indeed, an exciting first not just for Paris Opera, but for the U.S.

Millennium Park, in coordination with the Paris Opera Ballet, the Harris Theater and the city of Chicago, will present the nation’s first live outdoor simulcast of an international ballet company. On Wednesday 27, as Harris patrons pay upwards of $125 to see Giselle live onstage, casual dance fans can see the same performance for free in the adjacent Pritzker Pavilion, where it will be shown on a 16.5' x 32.5' LED screen. The significance, according to Tiknis, is twofold: With the appearance of Paris Opera, one of the world’s oldest and most revered ballet companies, Chicago solidifies its status as a premiere destination for dance. Also, in Chicago and elsewhere, simulcasts promise wider access to a traditionally closed-door affair—no small thing in the notoriously protective realm of classical dance. (The Harris engagement will also include the company’s “Epic French Masterpieces” series.)

“There’s this idea of elitism right now in the sense that elite tends to be associated with exclusionary and not ‘of the people,’ as opposed to highly skilled, extremely talented and extraordinary,” Tiknis says. “We wanted to defuse this idea of elitism, if you will, and so a simulcast came up in terms of being free, accessible and open to the public.”

“It opens the door to a different audience than our usual one—people who will discover it differently,” Lefèvre says via a translator.

The simulcast will also act as a “test,” according to Millennium Park board chair Donna LaPietra. Based on Giselle’s success and prospective sponsorship opportunities, Millennium Park might purchase the big screen for full-time use. “We’re not worried about having product to put into it; we know we have great product,” LaPietra says. “It’s all technical at this point, about getting it to the way we hope it will look on the big screen.” For the upcoming show, the city is coordinating logistics such as weather contingencies and technical support.

“We hope our program is good for the [Harris] audience and also for the many people that will see the simulcast,” Lefèvre says. “It’s important for the people of Chicago and for the art [form].”

The Paris Opera Ballet performs Giselle Wednesday 27 and June 28 and “Epic French Masterpieces” June 29 through July 1 at the Harris Theater. A live simulcast of Giselle will take place Wednesday 27 in the Pritzker Pavilion.

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