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Lausanne choreographer Maurice Béjart turns 75

Maurice Béjart settled in Lausanne in 1987. béjart.ch

The world-famous ballet figure, Maurice Béjart, celebrates his 75th birthday with the turn of the New Year.

This content was published on January 1, 2002 - 10:53

Béjart has embellished the Lausanne cultural scene for the past quarter-century and is largely responsible for bringing the Vaud capital to the forefront of the international dance and choreographic limelight.

Despite his age, Béjart remains one of the most active figures of modern ballet. His Béjart Ballet Lausanne is to tour Japan, returning through Cyprus, Greece and France in late January.

Childhood dreams

Born on January 1, 1927, he became a choreographer almost accidentally. As a child he dreamed of becoming an opera singer, an orchestra conductor or even a bullfighter.

But the death of his mother at an early age was a turning point. His father, a philosopher and psychologist, raised the young Maurice. His mother's death propelled the boy to find solace in theatre and opera; he became entranced by Wagner.

His love of music, drama and art drew Béjart to dance. He founded a dance troupe, the 20th Century Ballet, and travelled with them to Paris, Marseille and London.

Alternately called a genius and a provocateur; his taste for experimental styles, unusual subjects and expression has earned him a controversial renown. He appeals and offends but leaves few indifferent.

"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. Imagination, violence, humour, love - everything is there," said Béjart.

The move to Lausanne

In 1987, Béjart settled in Lausanne as a ballet dancer and opera director. He also founded a dance school in Lausanne.

He renamed the ballet company shortly after his arrival in Switzerland, calling it the "Béjart Ballet Lausanne". The name has become associated with the cream of international ballet dancing, symbolising innovation, controversy and passion - and sold out shows.

Over the years, Béjart has focused on the lives of legendary characters and people, from Faust and King Lear to Charlie Chaplin and the Empress Elizabeth of Austria.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he does not shy away from politics. 'Le Dibouk' openly criticised Israel's policy in the occupied territories.

In another flout of convention, "Elton- Berg', a ballet set to the music of Eton John's 'Nikita', is to be performed in Japan, using identical choreography twice. And Béjart used fashion designers like Gianni Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier long before it became a trend.

His expressionist style has incorporated jazz and avant-garde music, and non-traditional dance forms such as acrobatics and unusual settings

Apart from his choreography, Béjart has written two theatre pieces and eight books. He has also shot six fiction films for television.

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