BEJART'S BALLET FOR LIFE.
SADLER'S WELLS THEATRE, LONDON, ENGLAND, U.K. SEPTEMBER 20-30, 2000
The Bejart Ballet has never attained the cult status in Britain that it holds in other European countries--there are no works by Bejart in the repertoires of London's top ballet companies. But its recent visit to London, the first in five years, has surely changed all that and served to remind just how well the company of twenty men and fourteen women performs and what a master showman it has in its director and founder, Maurice Bejart. His inventive, often witty, classically based creations and his vision for flamboyantly mixing color and content, together with his great theatricality, certainly afford an entertaining and unique night out.
Take his Elton-Berg, which celebrated its world premiere here at Sadler's Wells. Experimenting with rhythm and emotive content, Bejart created his dance and set it twice, to the music of two very different composers. The result was most inventive and interesting. First he used the Altenberg Lieder by Alban Berg, in which the dancing appeared sharp-edged and athletic. Then, at the end of the piece, the dancers returned to their starting positions and began again, with the very same steps, to perform the dance, this time to Elton John's "Nikita." Here the melodic singing and natural rhythms unwrapped the remoteness of the choreography to reveal warmth and personality. The four dancers were each imbued with the Bejart trademarks--controlled and taut bodies, extreme flexibility, angular movement mixed with classical elegance and, overall, a great sense of presence. Octavio Stanley, bare-chested in red trousers, was confined throughout in a lighted frame. From here, he appeared to manipulate the movements of the menage a trois with zealous sign language. Martin Vedel and Xavier Gobin, in black pants, first danced lovingly together, then with the woman, Elisabet Ros, manipulating and lifting her elastic body, balancing her on their shoulders and turning her long legs, stretched in 180-degree splits, like the pages of a book. It was an impressive work both in its creativity and performance.
More unwrapping was to be seen in The Overcoat, based on Gogol's short story about a little clerk who is robbed of his prized coat and dies of cold. But his ghost returns to steal the overcoats from passersby. The work was well conceived and dramatically executed, especially by Gil Roman, whose nimbleness and characterization were true to the tale.
The first program also offered Seven Greek Dances, a bit overlong--but it was a chance to see the company as a whole, and Bejart's signature piece, Bolero, now, astoundingly, forty years old. The soloist in this production can be danced by either sex, but at the performance I attended, Sylvie Guillem appeared as a guest of the company to move erotically to the pulsating rhythms on the round, red table, exciting the thirty-six handsome, barechested men watching her.
The second program offered just one work--Ballet for Life--which celebrated the lives of Bejart dancer Jorge Donn and Freddie Mercury, singer for the rock band Queen, both of whom died of AIDS at the age of 45. The work is not about their deaths so much as a statement about dying through loving. To some of the best-loved songs of Mercury and some Mozart, Bejart offered twenty very different episodes--mostly cheerful--with extraordinary costumes by Versace. The piece opens with a stage full of white-shrouded bodies, and, as Mercury sings, "It's a Beautiful Day," they stir and then dance, draping their winding sheets about them. "I Was Born to Love You" shows two eccentric fox-trotters in garish clothes, while behind them two naked bodies on hospital gurneys are wheeled around the stage by doctors until the trolleys join and the two bodies are united again, even in death. To Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music, one man enters an open box about seven feet high and begins to dance. He is then joined by another man, then another, until there are an unbelievable sixteen men dancing together in the box, all managing to avoid bumping into each other. Two men in red appear (perhaps representing the AIDS victims Mercury, in leather jacket and boots, and Donn, in red transparent tights) and finally infiltrate the mass of humanity in the box. A tribute to Donn's dancing to "I Want to Break Free" was screened while the whole company stood to attention along the side of the stage, also watching the film. The grand finale saw the dancers return to their original positions under their sheets as Mercury sang out "The Show Must Go On." It was a moving but joyful appreciation for the two men, and it showed the company in so many different moods and styles. Let's hope that it won't be five years before the company is back in the U.K. again.
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|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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