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VERSAILLES FESTIVAL: BÉJART BALLET LAUSANNE

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

VERSAILLES, FRANCE, 25 JUNE 2014 — Come summertime and almost every small village, town and city in France possesses its own festival, be it classical music, jazz, rock or dance. However, none can be as spectacular as the Festival of Versailles, now situated in the gardens of the Orangerie designed by the great architect, Jules Hardouin Mansart, between 1684 and 1686. The building, some 150 metres long, prolonged by galleries on either side and lit by a series of tall, vaulted windows, houses over one thousand lemon, orange and pomegranate trees originating from Spain, Portugal and Italy, many of them 200 years old, not to mention the innumerable palm trees, some reaching seven or eight metres in height, which are brought outside between May and October. An immense stage had been built out in front of the small ornamental lake with the sculptured walls of the magnificent Chateau of Versailles towering behind forming a majestic backdrop.


Gardens of the Orangerie of the
Chateau of Versailles
 

It was indeed a unique setting for a spectacle of dance, particularly suited to Maurice Béjart’s highly theatrical style of choreography which his company has so often performed in the open air, in sports stadiums and arenas as well as in theatres throughout the world to vast popular acclaim. The troupe, now directed by Gil Roman, proposed an astute programme of works, all crowd-pleasers.
 
The evening began with 7 Danses Grecques, created in New York in 1983 to music by Mikis Theodorakis, a work which had formed the last part of his Thalassa-Mare Nostrum, a full-length ballet first performed in Arles the previous year. Roman himself, who worked with Béjart for over 30 years, together with Serge Campardon and Michel Gascard, now director of the school, Rudra Béjart Lausanne, had danced in the premiere. Considering the chill of the June evening and the constant niggling wind, the performance of the work was remarkable. Seeing the whole company taking over the stage in such exceptional surroundings was quite fabulous. The ballet also brought to the fore the Colombian dancer, Oscar Chacon, a slender, elegant figure, who interpreted the solo from the work with grace and lightness. A pupil of  Rudra, Chacon, born in 1977 joined the troupe in 2004.

The 2001 creation, Etude pour une Dame aux Camélias, which followed was a more surprising choice. At first, Elisabet Ros, left alone on the darkened stage, the wind tearing at her light chiffon skirts, seemed out of place, but as soon as she began to dance, and more particularly when the music took over, an extract from the opera Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilea, interpreted by Maria Callas, the mood changed to one of exaltation. The voice of Callas soaring against the floodlight gardens of the Orangerie was the obvious reason for the choice of this ballet; it became a moment of sheer emotion.

There was a dramatic change of atmosphere with Bhakti III, a 1968 work which mingles the inimitable Béjartian style with traditional Hindu music and Indian gods. It has long been a favourite with dancers, the solo from it being frequently performed by the younger members of the Paris Opera Ballet in the annual competition for promotion, and so it was interesting to see the complete work, with both Shakti and Shiva, as well as with the six other male dancers who prayed around them.


Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Boléro
Choreography: Maurice Béjart

Photo: LaureN Pasche

However, the highlight of the evening the audience had been waiting for was Béjart’s Boléro, one of his greatest successes, the monument which has practically become his signature tune. Whether one likes it or not has become irrelevant today, for, interpreted by dancers all over the world, it has become a timeless classic.

First choreographed to Ravel’s well-known score by Nijinska and premiered at the Paris Opera in 1928, the ballet portrayed a gypsy dancing on a table in a Spanish inn, but in 1960, Béjart developed the idea of an erotic rite, more Oriental than Spanish, creating his own provocative, brazenly sensual work with first a woman dancing on a table surrounded by 40 boys and subsequently a boy surrounded by women. By 1979, the blond, beautiful Jorge Donn who immortalized the role both on stage and film, Les Uns et les Autres, gave a seductive, mesmerizing performance surrounded by 40 boys  which was the version given at the Orangerie.

The lightness and grace of French-born dancer, Julien Favreau, who took over the central role, that of the Melody, were in direct contrast with the powerful animal maleness of Donn who was perhaps also more mystical, making any comparison impossible. In such a setting, the extraordinary lighting effects became even more pronounced, with a spotlight first on the hand of the dancer, then on an arm, before highlighting the entire body with its rhythmic movements exactly in time with the score.

Indeed, the brilliance of the work lies in the structure of the choreography which echoes the exact structure of the melody, increasing in tempo as the ballet develops.


Béjart Ballet Lausanne in 7 Danses Grecques
Choreography: Maurice Béjart

The entire evening in this floodlit setting, where Béjart’s bare-chested boys must have been almost blue with cold, was remarkable; the 40 artists, composed of 21 nationalites, under the direction of Gil Roman since Béjart’s death in 2007, gave a truly royal performance!

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. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque

Related Culturekiosque Archives

Obituary: Maurice Béjart: 1 January 1927 - 22 November 2007

Humour: The Frye-ku Folio: 37, 38, 39 

Dance Feature: Tribute to Maurice Béjart


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