By Patricia Boccadoro
8 September 2003
At the Palais des Congrès
Earlier this season,
Maurice Béjart brought Ballet Béjart Lausanne to the
Palais des Congrès with his version of The Magic Flute,
created for the Ballet du XX Century, one of the world's most
important companies, in 1981. Twenty years ago, the company included
such luminaries as Jorge Donn, Shonach Mirk, Yann Le Gac, and Michel
Gascard, to name but a few, and the work was a great success.
Ballet Béjart Lausanne is a shadow of that great company.
Lacking any dancers with strong personalities of their own, excepting
Christine Blanc, who wasn't in it, their appearance in Paris was a
the Opéra Bastille
May and June, fifteen performances of four Béjart ballets were
programme began with The Firebird, created for the French
company in 1970, when it was superbly danced by Michael Denard. As in
many of Béjart's ballets, the choreography centres on the male
dancer, in this case, the Firebird. Although admirably interpreted on
this occasion by premier danseur, Benjamin Pech, the work, inspired by
the political events which took place in France in 1968, belonged to
that period in time. Nine dancers in nondescript blue grey overalls,
obviously members of some resistance group are alternatively searching
for something, or fighting an invisible enemy. Suddenly one of them
discards his grey apparel and appears in red. He's the chosen one, the
Firebird. He transmits his soul and strength to the partisans, and as
he dies he is reborn again, and ten more Firebirds arrive, all dressed
in red. New and exciting when created, the framework of the ballet has
lost the significance it had over thirty years ago.
Paquette in L'Oiseau de feu
© Photo: Icare
the other hand, Webern, opus V, a purely classical pas de deux
created two years earlier hasn't a wrinkle. A timeless work, it was
created at the request of two Opéra dancers, Jean-Pierre
Bonnefous and Jacqueline Rayet, who returned at Béjart's
request to direct the rehearsals. Agnès Letestu and José
Martinez performed it brilliantly, conveying all the emotion of the
almost minimalist choreography with each of their gestures.
Letestu and José Martinez in Webern, opus V
is the subject of Le Mandarin Merveilleux, created for the Béjart
Ballet Lausanne in 1992, a ballet many companies would be pleased to
have in their repertoire. Set to a score by Bela Bartok, it is well
crafted with a touch of his past mastery in the crowd scenes; each
step has a meaning. Three ruffians force a young girl, premier danseur
Alessio Carbone in drag, to seduce and then rob the passers by. Then
along comes a wealthy Chinese, Laurent Hilaire, who falls for her/him,
but is beaten up and left for dead for his pains. Staggering back to
life, he is then stabbed and hung, but the girl/ boy pleads for him,
and he is cut free to die in her/his arms.
this work, Béjart has created a very nasty and disturbing
atmosphere. It is also scenically impressive with new sets of a rough
working-class suburb designed by the Paris Opéra workshops. Led
by étoile Laurent Hilaire, the cast, perfectly adequate, worked
with Gil Roman, the dancer who created the work in Lausanne.
Carbone and Laurent Hilaire: Le Mandarin Merveilleux
did not like the ballet when it was first performed ten years ago, and
it did not improve on a second viewing. It leaves an unpleasant taste
in your mouth.
creation, Phrases de Quatuor, set to an original score by
Pierre Henry, is a solo work created for danseur étoile, Manuel
Legris. Would that Jerome Robbins had created "A suite of dances",
for him instead! This splendid dancer deserves better.
Choreographically speaking it was devoid of interest from the moment
he arrived on stage, stood upright on a barre, went into an arabesque,
and jumped off with a Tarzan-style yell.
Four pretty dancers
arrive, all dressed in black, and sit in a circle with their knitting.
While the knitters knit their red knitting first sitting down, then
standing up, Legris does his own thing in the centre of the stage. He
takes a chair, and the knitters look at him for the first time. One of
them who still has a chair stands on it, another runs around the
stage, while a third stands on the barre and continues her handiwork.
As Legris throws the chair he has taken off-stage, the four knitters
take up uncomfortable positions on the barre ignoring the hero who
returns with some dizzying spins and high jumps to show the perplexed
audience what he can do.
Legris in Phrases de Quatuor
© Photo: Icare
a canon fires, and a thunderstorm breaks out, our hero is shielded
from the elements by a large white sheet, but, like us, he's had
enough and he covers the long-suffering knitters with the sheet,
throwing their knitting on top.
At some point, all the lights in the theatre go on,
and then off, and we listen to Manuel Legris telling us how he learnt to
dance while watching his grandmother make Pistou soup, and by
watching his cats.
The piece ends after he has tipped the
long-suffering knitters off their chairs, where they carry on knitting
upside down and on all fours. I heartily wished that seventy-six
year-old Mr. Béjart had stayed at home with those cats.
was probably unfortunate that this programme had to be shown at the
vast Bastille Opéra. These works, three of which had small
casts, would probably have been seen to greater advantage at the more
intimate Palais Garnier. All in all, it made up to a rather sad
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe.
She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance
consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms.
Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.