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Béjart's Le Concours
at the Palais Garnier

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 7 March 2000 - I did not particularly want to see Maurice Béjart's Le Concours at the Palais Garnier, but went out of a sense of duty because I had been asked to write a review. I had seen the work almost fifteen years ago, when it had been staged at the Théâtre de Châtelet, and I remember my disappointment only too well. The story was weak, the characters silly, and the choreography seemed empty. Interpreted by a lesser company than the Ballet of the XXth Century, it would have been unbearable.

The "ballet film" is a detective story set in an international dance competition. Shortly after it starts, one of the young contestants, Ada, is shot, and in the course of the enquiry with its reconstruction and flashbacks to places including Rimini, in Italy, and a circus in Provence, the audience is shown six suspects, all of whom, for extremely obscure reasons, had threatened to kill her in the past.

A clever show, the work was brilliantly interpreted by the Paris Opera Ballet, who were all thoroughly enjoying themselves. They gave a superb demonstration that classical ballet is very adaptable . Why shouldn't it be empty entertainment after all; it isn't always meant to be great culture.

Interpreting the work of choreographers like Pina Bausch has extended their range, and now it seems there's nothing the French dancers don't dare to do. Definitely, "different", Béjart was nevertheless serving the art of dance, even if he did throw in quite a bit of café theatre .

Whether the production has been worked on over the years, (it is now two hours long, instead of the original one and a half),or whether it has matured like old Scottish whisky, I wouldn't like to say, but what is certain is that Maurice Béjart made the most of the magnificent Palais Garnier, (even opening up the foyer de la danse at the back of the stage for his grand finale), and the most prestigious company of classical dancers in the world.

The two stars of the evening were the ravishing Aurélie Dupont in the role of the victim, and detective Manuel Legris, hands thrust in the pockets of his raincoat, who danced only with his legs and feet, and while it would be unfair to single out any one dancer as better than anothe , one of the heroes of the evening was undoubtedly Emmanuel Thibault.

He was the contestant who arrived a little late and was a bit slow to change, rushing on stage in his gaily flowered underpants, bow-tie, and shirt-tails flapping round his bottom to do his bit in five minutes of stupendous soft leaps and amazingly precise fouettés, mixed with Groucho Marx burlesque.

Of course, the irony of the whole situation is that it is Thibault, perhaps not a danseur noble in the accepted sense, nor the étoiles' dream partner, who is blocked year after year in real life by the Paris Opera's annual competition. If the true subject of the piece, as Béjart is at pains to point out in the programme, is the futility of official competitions, whether internal or international, then why present this at the Paris Opera where each year the all-important Concours determines the future of each dancer?

In the real Concours, held in February 2000, a post of premier danseur was vacant, but whether Thibault would be given this promotion or whether it would be awarded to an inferior member of the troupe is almost irrelevant, for there is no official category for artists like Thibault.

Béjart has consistently refused to be part of any jury.

The Orchestre Colonne, admirably conducted by David Coleman played snitches of music from several classical ballets interspersed by original music composed by Hugues Le Bars.

You see him here, you see him there.......



Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes 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 Culturekiosque.com.

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