Who doesn’t want to spend the night in a museum? While few of us still retain juvenile hopes of spending the evening among living statues, the next best thing is offered up annually by the international Long Night of Museums. At this year’s event in Paris, dance proved to be the highlight.

Petit Palais, A performance by students from the Conservatoire Camille Saint Saëns

We’ve all dreamt of spending the night in a museum. For those with a cheeky £180 to spare, the Natural History Museum in London offers the punny Dino Snores night in which kids or adults (a three-course dinner and stand-up comedy routine are offered for the over 18s, it’s a little cheaper for the easily pleased younguns) can camp out under the mammoth blue whale skeleton.

The prospect may be less appealing to poor old Larry Daley, Ben Stiller’s character in the 2006 film Night at the Museum. For those who haven’t seen the averagely reviewed but widely-watched film, Daley is hired as a security guard at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, only to discover that the exhibits come alive after dark. Hijinks naturally ensue, as our hero comes face to face with a Tyrannosaurus rex, Theodore Roosevelt (played, naturally, by Robin Williams) and a bunch of Neanderthals. Yet, what could have yielded nightmarish results, instead leads to much Stiller-style hilarity (granted, it’s an acquired taste) and a happy ending. Thanks to director Shawn Levy’s humour, the appeal of the nocturnal museum experience lives on.

“What if Mona Lisa could talk? What if we could have a picnic with all the impressionists in the Musée d’Orsay?”

What if Mona Lisa could talk? What if we could have a picnic with all the impressionists in the Musée d’Orsay? Well, it’s not just Hollywood and the Natural History Museum who offer up late night revelry among the long-dead, and since 1997, after launching in Berlin, Long Night of Museums has spread its way across Europe and beyond to open now in more than 120 cities. On this particular day, various performances, from readings to guided tours or concerts, bring life to permanent and temporary displays. I experienced my long night in Paris with an evening of dance.

Petit Palais ∏ Petit Palais MusÇe des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris

Dance has slowly conquered the French art world for the past five years, for better and worse. The “exhibition-choreography” by dancer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Centre Pompidou last year was deemed too far-fetched, for example. The Louvre’s current collaboration with Benjamin Millepied has more to do with marketing than with modernizing the collections. Conversely, the companies recruited for the Long Night of Museums usually have a significant impact.

Last Saturday, Terpsichore, the muse of dance, worked her magic on a few institutions. Her name derives from the Greek words terpo, delight, and choro, dance, which almost sounds like corps–the “p” and “s” are not to be pronounced–meaning body in French. Perhaps a stretch in wordplay, but the etymology conveys the group of bodies on this evening, that were obviously delighted to dance.  

MAM, A performance by members of the Paris Hip Hop Center

I met a journalist friend before the Petit Palais’s imposing façade. We were greeted inside by a grumpy chap. “I do not work for the Museum!”, he argued when politely asked to change his tone. We could not help but feel for the young ballerinas lined up behind him. They were all clad in red as dryads from a dionysiac tale–a flashy Rock’n Roll, rather than Baroque red. Velvet Underground to underground scarlet. The colour may have been offtrack, but the soundtrack suited the setting.

Afterwards, I ended up crossing the street alone with canned heat in my heels, and headphones. The Grand Palais’s entrance was blocked by an inflexible Cerberus. “I do not care if you are from the press. Stand in line like everyone else.” Though he was right in a way–I hate people using their privileges to bend the rules–I had to slither in at any cost. At Gate B I chanced upon a TV crew who let me tag along. We entered through the museum’s parking lot, got ourselves name tags, hopped on some kind of giant goods lift and stopped right in front of “The Gates of Hell”, which happens to be the climax of Rodin: The Centennial Exhibition. Perfect timing. Three dancers dressed in black were already in place and about to start interacting with the surrounding sculptures, including The Walking Man on top of the marble stairway–a sublime performance.

“Dance did not only win Paris but the whole country over.”

It was already half past nine when I elbowed my way out. I then headed to Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, that is the Paris Museum of Modern Art, where I enjoyed a radically different atmosphere. Visitors were massed at the bottom of the stairs leading to the Dufy Room. Was Raoul Dufy’s Fée Électricité responsible for the choice of electronic music, which a snake-haired silhouette was seizing to? Probably. Seizing indeed, because her twitchy gesture could hardly be called dance. The Gorgon-like woman–a clear reference to the Medusa exhibition next door–proved more elegant than her stocky male partners.

Musee du quai Branly

Dance did not only win Paris but the whole country over. Take the Domaine de Malagar in Saint-Maixant. It opened for a short hour, from eight until nine, to house a hip-hop/contemporary dance show casting Kader Belmoktar, among others. Another castle, the Château musée de Tournon, welcomed the Long Night of Museums. The performance Dedans-dehors (Inside Out), mainly consisted of improvisation. The last fortress involved was the Domaine national de Champs-sur-Marne, where ballets tracing back the history of the place were repeated in a loop up until midnight.

At the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Étienne, the curtain did not fall until the following day. While getting ready for its theatre-focused festival, the City of Avignon invited the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional and the Association des Parents d’Élèves du Conservatoire de Danse into dialogue with sculptures by Ousmane Sow in the Musée Calvet. Meanwhile, mixed routines from various times and cultures were being showcased at the Musée Gallé-Juillet in Creil. Lastly, Nice’s MAMAC went for a single talent.

Long Night of Museums is not restricted merely to dance, but the movement and atmosphere provided offer some of that much-desired spark of life to the still inhabitants of the museum. As for dance in France, it shows no sign of abating. Coming up soon, the first edition of the Dansez Maintenant festival which will take place in the Véretz Castle in the heart of the Loire Valley. On 1 July, guest artists and dancers from all over the world will mingle to concoct an interdisciplinary programme, since Dansez Maintenant’s goal is to reconnect inhabitants with their region through different cultures and arts. 

Auvergne-Rhìnes-Alpes chateau-musee de Tournon-sur-Rhone ∏ Jeannerot (ARA)