Magazine article The Spectator

Too Much Past

Magazine article The Spectator

Too Much Past

Article excerpt


Bejart Ballet Lausanne

(Sadler's Wells)


(Queen Elizabeth Hall)

Too much


Giannandrea Poesio

Some thirty years ago, when the last echoes of student revolution had finally managed to seep through the traditionally austere sanctity of most European dance schools, young ballet people raved about Maurice Bejart. For them he was the choreographer who had broken all the rules by revisiting the art of ballet and transforming it into a more accessible form of popular art - non-elitist and mass-oriented - without diminishing its cultural values, as in the case of his choreographic adaptation of Petrarch's Trionfi (1974) staged in Florence's Boboli Gardens, or of his dazzling rendition of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (1964).

Long before the Tanztheater boom, Bejart managed to interpolate successfully spoken and sung sections in the predominantly balletic action, and he was also one of the first dance-makers to mix the old ballet idiom with other forms of dance and movement. More significantly, he showed the world that the vocabulary of classical dance could be used to express everyday concepts, and in particular political undertones, thereby dispelling the myths which surrounded - and still surround - that art. Even in his more light-hearted creations, such as Gaite Parisienne (1978), one finds explicit attacks on both society and the cultural establishment in which he operated. Finally he is the man who, in the early Seventies, claimed bluntly that ballet was a male art. And those who remember his all-male version of Bolero (originally choreographed in 1960), or any of his predominantly male dances, know how much he did to rescue the often ridiculed male ballet dancer.

Alas, many years have passed. What looked revolutionary, controversial and provocative has now become dated. The overt populism that informed most Bejart choreography and the somewhat naive and hyper-theatrical expressionist movement vocabulary now look horribly old-fashioned if not slightly ridiculous. You can still detect the nuances of an interesting dance-- making craft in works created between the Sixties and the end of the Seventies, but what impinges on the performance I saw last week is the interpretation of the dancers, who, for age reasons, know and understand little of the dance's origins. …

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