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Part 2

Tribute to Maurice Béjart
By Patricia Boccadoro in Paris, 23 December 2008

The mood was quite, quite different at the Opéra Bastille where a tribute to Maurice Béjart was given. Three of his tried and tested works were given with differing degrees of success.

The evening began with a 1970 creation, the enigmatic, Serait-ce la mort, which was given a five star treatment. No risks were taken with the casting of étoile Nicolas Le Riche as the man, and étoiles Delphine Moussin, Dorothée Gilbert, Clairemarie Osta and Emilie Cozette in the roles of Death, the Young Girl, Experience, and Sophistication respectively.

It is a highly intimate work, and certainly a surprising choice for the Christmas festive season, telling the story of a dying man who sees before him the three women he loved in his lifetime. Set to the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, composed just before his death in 1950, it is the excuse for a series of lyrical pas de deux , reminding one why the early works of Maurice Béjart were, and still are, so greatly loved.

Nicolas Le Riche et Emilie Cozette in Serait-ce la mort
Choreography: Maurice Béjart
Photo: Laurent Philippe

Of course, the work was inspired by and written for Béjart's muse and lifetime partner, the magnificent Jorge Donn, one of the most outstanding interpreters of his generation. But Nicolas Le Riche slipped effortlessly into the part. Partnering his ballerinas, one by one, each as lovely as the one before, a very moving and solemnly beautiful performance was given. But perhaps one star shone a little more brightly in the galaxy than the rest. The purity and spirituality of Emilie Cozette was in total harmony with the music, sung sublimely by the soprano, Twyla Robinson.

L'Oiseau de Feu, another 1970 creation, came next on the programme, but unlike the previous work, created for Béjart's own Ballet of the XXth Century, Firebird was premièred by the Paris Opera Ballet. It was a total re-reading of the old Russian legend, banishing giants, magic apples, secret gardens and mysterious, glorious birds.

Moreover, replacing the supernatural Firebird by a young poet, Béjart created the ballet for Michael Denard, there to supervise rehearsals. He did his work well, for Mathieu Ganio, dancing the role for the first time, gave a very credible performance. Tender, then violent, he looked the part and finally became the part, giving his strength and force to the group of partisans, offering his soul in return for the renewal of their energy.

Paris Opera Ballet in L'Oiseau de feu
Choreography: Maurice Béjart
Photo: Laurent Philippe

Le Sacre du Printemps, Béjart's 1959 landmark work, completed the evening. Revolutionary with its blatant sexual energy, it caused a sensation at its première when it heralded the formation of the magnificent Ballet of the 20th Century at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussells." Like many of Maurice Béjart's works which were to follow, it was exactly in keeping with its time, and consequently today, seems just a little dated, a surprising fact when one considers, for example, Nijinski's timeless version which was created over fifty years before.

Set to Stravinsky's phenomenal score, the ballet represents a fertility rite, a celebration of the physical union of a man and a woman and the stylized choreography demands interpreters of the highest level.

Jérémie Bélingard and Paris Opera Ballet in Le Sacre du Printemps
Choreography: Maurice Béjart
Photo: Laurent Philippe

One can only question the wisdom of Shonach Mirk, one of the ballet's greatest interpreters, there to rehearse the opera dancers, who accepted the participation of corps de ballet member, Audric Bezard as the Chosen One. He was embarrassing to watch. Lacking personal charisma, he was a caricature of a mannered dancer attempting a role far beyond his capabilities. Faced with such a partner, Stephanie Romberg gave what can only be called an honorable performance. Evidently, Nicolas Le Riche cannot be expected to participate in every Béjart work, but when programming such a masterpiece, dated or not, more care has to be taken with the choice of interpreters. The dancing of the corps de ballet was far superior to that of the two leading dancers, which made for rather an odd ending to the evening.

The Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris conducted by Vello Pahn gave a splendid performance.

The tribute to Maurice Béjart continued with an exhibition of some of the most beautiful photographs of his works taken by Francette Levieux and Collette Masson. Extraordinary black and white photographs of all the works he gave to the Paris Opera Ballet were displayed in the public areas of the Opéra Bastille, including Le Sacre du Printemps , with the 1965 cast of Jacqueline Rayet and Cyril Atanassoff, to the less dramatic, and it must be said, less successful Variations pour une porte et un soupir which entered the company's repertoire two years ago. One of the loveliest was Serait-ce la mort , with its outstanding 1979 cast of Michael Denard with Florence Clerc, Dominique Khalfouni, Noella Pontois, and Claude de Vulpian.

Maurice Béjart
Photo: Jacques Moatti

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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