Ballet legend celebrates 50 years of dance

Béjart is staging some of his greatest work swissinfo.ch

Maurice Béjart, founder of the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, is marking 50 years in the business with performances of some of his ground-breaking work.

This content was published on May 6, 2004 - 08:43

French-born Béjart, who has been based in Lausanne since 1987, is widely regarded as having stretched the boundaries of ballet, challenging audiences and critics alike.

His company is famous for its innovative and sometimes controversial ballets, mixing classical technique and modern movement.

“My ballets are first encounters with a piece of music, with life, death, love… with people whose past and work are embodied in me, just like the dancer which I no longer am,” said Béjart in an interview.

“Imagination violence, humour, love - everything is there.”

Born in Marseilles, France, in 1927, Béjart worked as a classical dancer before developing an interest in choreography. He founded his own ballet company, the Ballet de l’Etoile, in Paris in 1954.

He gradually built up a repertoire, but faced an initially sceptic public.

“Little by little we gained an audience, but at the beginning we were happy when there were 80 people in the room,” he said.

Brussels

The company changed its name to the Ballet-Théâtre de Paris in 1957. Three years later it moved to Brussels where it changed its name to the Ballet du XX siècle (Ballet of the 20th century).

He travelled the world with his company and produced critically acclaimed pieces such as Ravel’s “Bolero” and Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”.

Béjart moved to Lausanne in 1987 and renamed the ballet company the Béjart Ballet Lausanne (BBL).

“In 50 years the company has been known under different names... but it is the same company,” said Béjart.

“A troupe is like a big, living organism, which dies and recreates itself, like our body in which the cells renew themselves,” he told swissinfo in a previous interview.

Béjart was also one of the first choreographers to use designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace.

Many famous dancers have also made their name in his company, among them the late Jorge Donn and Gil Roman, now deputy director of the company.

Béjart created the Rudra Béjart dance school in 1992 and Company M, made up of 15 graduates from the school’s class of 2002.

Celebration

To celebrate Béjart’s 50 years in ballet, his company will perform six of his own choreographies this month in Lausanne.

Designed to be an “exciting retrospective” of Béjart’s career, they include “The Rite of Spring” from 1959 - one of his first successes - and “The Firebird” from 1970.

The programme culminates with a performance of his 1981 “The Magic Flute” on May 19-21.

Dance companies in Marseilles, Tokyo and Berlin will also perform Béjart choreographies during 2004.

The BBL says it is only right that Béjart should be fêted for his achievements.

“Only a very few choreographers show such longevity. Only a few works resist the ravages of time… 50 years has to be celebrated,” said the company.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

In brief

The anniversary performances will take place in Lausanne at the Espace Odyssés de Malley.

May 7-9 : an updated version of “Brel and Barbara”, followed by “Bhakti”, in its original form.

May 12-14: three classic Béjart ballets – “The Rite of Spring”, “Bolero” and “The Firebird.”

May 16: “Carte blanche à Maurice Béjart” – a new version of “Bolero” with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. Afterwards a new creation about Venice by Béjart and Roman.

May 19-21: “The Magic Flute”.

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