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Béjart and Beethoven at Bercy
Not so cheap entertainment for the masses

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 6 July 1999 - At 420 Francs a seat for Béjart's elaborate fresco at Bercy Stadium on 22 and 23 June, the IXe Symphonie de Beethoven, lasting a bare hour and a half, the evening worked out at a cost of 5 Francs a minute, excluding the parking and hot dogs. Those who paid less saw less, while anyone with failing eyesight saw not at all. Was it worth it?

The dancers, led by Laurent Hilaire, Kader Belarbi, Nicolas Le Riche, Isabelle Guérin and Agnès Letestu, the cream of the Paris Opera Ballet, were superb.

The choreography of the plotless ballet, which Béjart refers to as a "danced concert" was extremely beautiful. Written in 1964 by a Maurice Béjart at the summit of his art, it was constructed around the orchestral score.

The orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris played competently, and the choir sang lustily. But, both were without conviction. Certainly, the 13,000 strong audience applauded enthusiastically at the end, but the work did not get the standing ovation it received at the Opéra Bastille when it was performed there in the summer of 1996, nor the hysterical reception when I first saw it at the Palais des Sports in 1969, when the cast of the magnificent Ballet du XXe Siècle was led by the irreplaceable Jorge Donn.

It is a show which, in its time, has reached out to huge audiences in sports stadiums and public places throughout the world, including the Kremlin.

For those who might have personal problems with dance set to such sublime music, for no composer is sacred to Béjart, a 1996 Paris Opera programme tells us that several of Beethoven's own writings attest to the fact that he had dance in mind while writing his last symphony. Preliminary outlines for the finale apparently bear the mention, "with choir and dance".

Yet the cry of Schiller's Joy did not leave me feeling uplifted. I left Béjart's concert, his "manifestation", where he takes such pains to point out that all men are brothers, with a puzzled feeling of emptiness. To all intents and purposes, this erstwhile masterpiece has now become a slick commercial product.

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