It might seem a bit inane to make the point that Paris is a pretty arty city. From the Mona Lisa, to Picasso, to the pont des Arts, to the Opéras Garnier and Bastille, to the Venus de Milo, the Georges Pompidou Center, David, Ingres, Géricault, the Musée du Louvre, the Musée D’Orsay – yeah, we’re pretty steeped in the finer arts over here. Cool to note though, is the fact that the city’s art-rich personality is not limited to its history.
The current mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë is rather famously a patron of the arts, and has used his term to introduce cultural activities to the city, like Nuit Blanche that keep the city’s art scene vibrant and current. The contemporary art scene isn’t limited to local government-funded events, though. If you can move beyond the dazzling must-sees that fill Paris’s most celebrated museums, you’ll find that the city is up to its teeth in galleries, fashion shows, art installations, film festivals and indie music.
One of the coolest examples of the way Parisians work to cultivate their art scene beyond the old school Goliaths like the Louvre, Orsay and the Pompidou is way up North on Quai de Valmy. Nearly on top of the Canal St. Martin, technically in the 10ème arondissement, but really right on the border of the 19ème is Point Éphémère.
Billed as a Centre de Dynamiques Artistiques, Point Éphémère is housed in a former factory/retail site of construction equipment. The center is one of several founded by Usines Éphémères, a group that converts old industrial spaces into temporary art spaces and artists’ residences. The Point opened in 2004 for a projected period of 4 years, during which its four artists’ lofts, dance studio, five music studios and concert hall would be rented out to artists for the cheapest possible prices for six-month time periods.
The building is two stories tall, the upper one hitting Quai de Valmy at street level, and the lower right at canal height. The lower level features an exposition space, a concert hall and a bar-restaurant dont the profits help keep the center running. The upper level is comprised of the various lofts and studios, and it’s the studio de danse where I head each Sunday for two hours of intense hip-hop dance workshops.
Point Éphémère is not a place you just stumble across on your own – it survives instead on word of mouth by a diverse and vibrant community of artists who come from all over the city. I can confidently say that I’d have easily lived out my year in Paris without ever hearing rumors of its existence if it hadn’t been for a dance teacher/ choreographer/ guru called Flo.
Flo is a dancer, teacher and choreographer of undiscernible age, who teaches one of the best hip-hop classes I’ve ever taken. She’s petite but buff, girly but athletic. She wears her long, bleached-blond hair in two high ponytails and her style is so ghetto-fabulous that being in her presence makes me itch to run out and buy myself a pair of baggy G-Unit jeans and a basketball jersey. Flo taught my hip-hop class during fall semester and I loved her so much that I followed her to her drop-in hip-hop workshops.
Due to a series of scheduling conflicts, vacations, visitors and last-minute babysitting, I wasn’t able to make it to a stage (workshop, also means internship) until mid-April. I arrived five minutes early and after being greeted warmly by Flo, sat down on a bench to take in my surroundings and observe my fellow dancers. The studio is a huge brick room, with one wall made completely of windows that look out over the canal. Hanging precariously from a broken rod is an enormous black velvet curtain, that was probably quite impressive at one time, but today is filled with rips and dust. The floor is covered with typical Marley dance floor, and against the wall opposite the windows are balanced four huge mirrors – cracked and chipped and in constant danger of tipping over and shattering against the bricks. As dirty and run-down as it sounds, the atmosphere is amazing – hip-hop is a gritty style of dance, and exposed bricks, cracked mirrors and tattered curtains only help to get you in the zone.
As I watched the other dancers arrive, I started to get a little nervous – I’m used to being one of the best in my classes, but I had no idea what the general ability level might be. As the others filed in, high-fiving each other and laughing, each looking more ghetto-gritty than the next, I began to get really intimidated. I’d felt kind of hip-hoppy when I’d left my apartment in cropped baggy black cargo pants and an old tee shirt, but there’s no escaping the fact that I’m a former ballet-dancing Caucasian girl from Tacoma.
By the time Flo turned on the music to warm-up with, I had completely psyched myself out and took a spot at the very back of the group. But as the dancing heated up, all my anxiety began to melt away as I remembered that I know how to move, I love to dance and most of all, hip-hop is fun. After two hours of dancing, Flo reminded us that it was the Semaine des Arts at Point Éphémère and asked a group of us if we’d mind going downstairs and performing the piece we’d been working on for the patrons of the restaurant. Mind? Ha! I love performing, so I jumped at the chance. The floor space was minimal and sticky, and we were forced to alter our formation to fit around and between tables, but if I may say so, we were awesome. We left to loud cheers and Flo thanked us all for stepping up. We’re performing again next weekend and a few Sundays in June – but instead of performing just for the restaurant-goers, we’ll be moving the show out to the banks of the canal. I can’t wait.
This is one of the things I’m really going to miss about Paris – being part of an impromptu performing hip-hop troop that dances in old factories and along the Seine. Not to mention the never-diminishing entertainment of hearing Flo shout Un, deux, trois et KRUMP!!!