BEJART BALLET LAUSANNE- Aria & ce que l’amour me dit – March 2011

Béjart Ballet Lausanne – Palais des Festivals Cannes, March 15, 2011

Several major dance companies have lost their founder-directors and sole choreographers during the past few years, including such major figures as Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch and Maurice Béjart. Each company attempts to cope with the loss and the need to decide whether to wind up the company, as the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will, once the current contracts have been fulfilled, or to continue with a successor, as is happening with the Pina Bausch and Maurice Béjart companies. Despite the criticism which has often been made of Béjart’s qualities as a choreographer, especially in the UK and the US, it is undeniable that he was a decisively influential figure in the European dance world for some fifty years. He gave a new status to male dancers, and made ballet so popular that his company could fill the largest theatres, as well as stadiums and pop-music venues, throughout the world. The golden era was the 1960’s and 1970’s, with  Sacre du Printemps, Bolero, and The Firebird among his huge output, and the creation of the Ballet of the 20th Century, based in Brussels. The company boasted an array of magnificent dancers, glamorous, and even sexy, including Paolo Bortoluzzi, Jorge Donn, Germinal Cassado, Tania Bari, Maina Gielgud and Suzanne Farrell for two seasons, having absconded from Balanchine.  In 1987, he was forced to leave Brussels, but immediately found a new base for his company in Lausanne. Inevitably, this brought about changes – a smaller, younger company and the need to produce even more commercially successful ballets. During his final, long, illness Béjart carefully prepared Gil Roman, a company dancer since 1979, to succeed him, insisting he was uniquely suited to take over the company, to preserve his work and to take the company forward. He also encouraged his first choreographic essays and left him with the instructions: “don’t go back to the past, go forward.”

During the spring and summer of this year, the Béjart Ballet Lausanne visits Spain, Poland, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey, and, as part of a lengthy tour of France, appeared in Cannes for two performances. The performances were preceded by a film, “After Béjart – The Heart and The Courage”, made a year after his death in 2007. During the filming, the company, obviously still suffering from their loss, are shown rehearsing Gil Roman’s first ballet as company director, a work which was to be judged as a test of his abilities as a successor both by the local audience in Lausanne, and, no doubt, by the powers-that-be. The film follows the current fashion in dance films, wallowing in the tension and sufferings of the director and the cast, with innumerable shots of Gil Roman, clutching a cigarette and bemoaning “the anguish”. However, using archive film and still photos, as well as covering the preparations on and off stage, and including interviews with ex-members and dancers from Paris Opéra Ballet who have worked extensively with Béjart, it is an informative and enjoyable film.

The resulting ballet, Aria, finally acclaimed in Lausanne, opened the company’s performances in Cannes. The work is choreographed to a collage of music by J.S.Bach, Nine Inch Nails, traditional Inuit songs, and what used to be called ‘musique concrète’, much used by Béjart in his very early ballets. The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is at the centre of the ballet which appears to confront opposing forces of good and evil, and even of classical and contemporary dance. If it all seemed rather confused, there were some effective tribal-like dances for the corps, inventive, if ‘Béjartian’, choreography for the three female soloists, and Julien Faveau, as the hero battling for his life, danced impressively. A charming and diminutive dancer, the Ukranian, Kateryna Shalkina, stood out, as she had done last summer at the Montpellier Dance Festival. Ce Que l’Amour Me Dit was created in 1974, Béjart’s Eastern, or ‘Buddhist’ period, and is one of a series of ballets inspired by Eastern philosophy and mysticism. It is, unfortunately, Béjart at his most pretentious and long-winded and I am not at all sure that he would have included this ballet in a programme aiming to keep his work alive. Choreographed to three movements of Mahler’s 3rd symphony, (raucously reproduced, presumably by the Palais des Festival’s sound system) the work is based on a book by Nietzsche, and seems overloaded with symbolism. Much of the choreography is so slow-moving, earth-bound and repetitious that it often resembles a yoga class more than a ballet, and the central figure, again danced well by Julien Faveau, surrounded by half-naked massed bodies rolling and writhing, just manages to keep memories of Béjart’s better works alive. The jury is still out in deciding whether a company which lived and breathed the spirit and the creative energy of its creator, as Béjart’s dancers did, can be viable after his disappearance.

 ©copyright Christina Gallea, March 2011