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Dance all the way...
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-11-24 10:32:12
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I have always believed that any kind of art is really a combination of all kinds of art and that’s exactly what makes it art. I know that it sounds confusing but when you see a Matisse painting you feel the music, and you can hear the lyrics and you can sense the dance. This is the feelings I got the first time I watched a production of the Ballet du XXe Siècle hosted in Herodium, Athens’ ancient theater under the Acropolis.

It must have been Theodorakis’ music, the lights from the Acropolis or this sacred feeling the place leaves on you but it was all art together: it was the dance, it was the light, it was the music, it was history, it was painting, it was poetry, it was drama, it was all there - all the seven muses.

For eighty years the seven muses definitely blessed the best chorographer of the 20th century, Maurice Béjart, the man who brought ballet and modern dance into contemporary houses. He balanced in harmony between the colorful sixties and the classics. He was born Maurice Jean Berger in Marseille, France, on January 1, 1927, and in his youth he was an ardent student and appeared to be following the strict example set by his father Gaston Berger, a hard-working university administrator, philosopher and educator who was largely self-taught.

Béjart was such a fanatical student, in fact, that he had to be enrolled on doctor's orders at age fourteen at the ballet school of the Marseilles Opera for exercise to increase his physical vigor, a prescription that has worked wonders for over sixty years.

Young Maurice also exhibited his father's trait for independent action when he abandoned academic schooling after graduating from the Lycée de Marseille and the Faculty of Philosophy in Aix-en-Provence in 1945. Breaking free on many levels at eighteen, he left home for Paris where he studied ballet and soon dropped "Berger" to adopt the maiden name of Molière's wife. After studying with Léo Staats, Lubov Egorova, and Madama Rousanne (Sarkissian) in Paris, he performed with Mona Inglesby's International Ballet and the Royal Swedish Ballet and sealed his reputation as industrious and disciplined before creating dances for his own path-breaking companies.

Symphonie pour un homme seul (1955, with a score by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry), featuring the first electronic score to accompany ballet, established Béjart as an innovator with a radical vision. After presenting an electrifying interpretation of The Rite of Spring (set to the classic Igor Stravinsky score) informed by myth, sexual heat, and stage flash in 1959 at the Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie in Brussels, he founded The Ballet of the Twentieth Century, a company that has had a major influence on the European Dance Theatre movement.

Based in Brussels until 1987, Béjart developed his ideas of ballet as total theater to explore the complex forces buffeting the individual in contemporary society. His highly theatrical and often shocking productions, some on such a grand scale that they had to be staged in stadium-size arenas, have attracted new, youthful audiences in unprecedented numbers.

Undeterred by critical sniping at his vision for dance, the choreographer worked on, enticing ballet superstars such as Suzanne Farrell in the early 1970s and Sylvie Guillem in the 1990s to join his company and dazzle audiences in new ways. An inveterate showman, a convert to Sufism and a long-time student of Zen Buddhism, Béjart has integrated his diverse artistic, spiritual and social interests by viewing dance as a religious rite available to all, not just the elite.

By refusing to regard any aspect of life as profane, he celebrates the carnal without apology; his work, ever theatrical, can carry an unambiguously sexual charge that some congregations would protest loudly. From his current base in Lausanne, Switzerland, Béjart could rest on his laurels and receive homage from his own spiritual heirs in the European Dance Theater movement (Pina Bausch, Boris Eifman, and Matthew Bourne, among others). Instead, he remains prolific and fully capable of stirring controversy.

Audiences and critics are either enthralled or enraged by recent offerings such as the celebratory Ballet for Life (1997, set to a score combining classical Mozart with pop-rock Queen), in response to the AIDS-related deaths of his friends Jorge Donn and Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen; and Bolero for Gianni (1999, set to his all-time-favorite Ravel score), a tribute to the murdered Gianni Versace, who had designed the eye-popping costumes for that 1997 dance. Such projects, as well as his many collaborations across classical and popular lines, have permitted Béjart not only to present his work to large theater audiences but also to record a remarkable number of performances on film and video for wider accessibility.

On 22nd November, 2007, he danced his way out of his life leaving a heavy heritage to his son Peter who continues his work with the Béjart Ballet Lausanne. Apparently they visited Greece this summer and in an interview before the premiere of their show his son, after apologizing for his father’s absence due to some health problems, said that his father was especially upset since he always considered Greece, especially Athens, as his second house and definitely an inspiration all his life recalling his close friend the composer Mikis Theodorakis.

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