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Kitsch at the Châtelet:
Béjart's Nutcracker

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 25 January 2000 - After the success of Le Concours (1985) danced by the Paris Opéra Ballet, Béjart opened at the Châtelet with his version of The Nutcracker with the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, created for the Festival of Turin in 1998. But the nearest the audience got to Tchaikovsky's glorious creation (libretto Petipa, choreography Ivanov), was when they looked at the title of their programme, for the true subject of the ballet was the obsession of the young Maurice with his mother who died when he was seven.

There was also the music, but that was rudely interrupted throughout the performance, a fact which didn't unduly bother the Orchestre Colonne. Indeed, their playing was the highlight of the work, hardly a compliment as they enjoy a growing reputation as one of the worst orchestras in France. As the evening wore on, they were joined by an ageing music hall accordionist, Yvette Horner, bedecked in Jean-Paul Gaultier, whose additions to Tchaikovsky's music were worthy of a cheery public house in the North of England. Horner was the fairy godmother.

You can certainly forget all about the fairy-tale and Christmas, although there was a small Christmas tree on one side of the stage, and, at the end, a large parcel for "Bim", alias little Maurice, a small-scale replica of the ten-metre high naked lady with the large boobs who stood on the stage throughout the show. At the beginning she was wrapped up with string.

The work opened with a video screen showing a giant-sized Maurice Béjart telling everybody about his childhood, and explaining how his father showed him that the interior of the nut was like a small human brain. I was impressed, believing him to be using deaf-and-dumb language at the same time as speech, but I later learned this was the sign language of his school, Mudra.

After five minutes or so, his dancers were allowed onstage for a little while, before we got Béjart's head again, shortly replaced by that of his grandmother, who told us all what a wonderful little boy he had been and of how she was not at all surprised at his fame as he had always been so special. Then there was a little more dance.

Bejart: The Nutcracker

I remember once reading another critic who wrote that audiences had to be half in love with Béjart to appreciate his current work, but to like this offering, they have to be blindly in love with the man, for the whole story centres around him.

Besides Bim, interpreted by the squeaky-clean Damass Thijs , and his mother, the lovely Elisabet Ros (what was she doing in such an extravaganza of bad taste?), other characters included a cat, two transvestites, two prostitutes, some boy scouts and staunch supporter, Gil Roman as M....Marius Petipa, Mephisto.

However, the most puzzling part of his ballet was the famous pas de deux ,actually from the Nutcracker, but poorly danced by Christine Blanc and Domenico Levrè who lacked both the technique and style to even attempt it and who were both inexplicably dressed in black. Before they came on scene, a solemn voice told us that under no circumstances would Petipa's choreography be tampered with.

Who was Béjart fooling? Petipa wrote the libretto, but not the choreography, which was created by Lev Ivanov because Petipa was ill. Unless of course, he has access to some secret papers and knows better than the rest of us.

The only redeeming feature of the production were the beautiful clothes worn by Elisabet Ros. These, Béjart said in an interview, were designed from photographs from his own family albums. Gaultier would do well to take a peek at them.



Photo : Ballet: Casse-noisette (The Nutcracker)
Choreography : Maurice Béjart
Credit : Colette Masson

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