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Tireless ballet legend blows out 80 candles

Eighty-year-old Maurice Béjart has staged some 230 different ballet performances Keystone

French-born choreographer Maurice Béjart, founder of the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, is celebrating his 80th birthday on January 1.

This content was published on January 1, 2007 - 16:13

Béjart, who has been based in Lausanne since 1987, is famous for his innovative and sometimes controversial ballets, mixing classical technique and modern movement.

His new creations "Tchekhov au bois dormant" and "La vie du danseur (Amor-4-Vingt)" have recently been playing to packed houses in Lausanne.

"I definitely plan to continue working. It keeps me going. Too much rest kills me," said Béjart, who is keen to downplay the importance of his 80 years.

On Saturday, over 300 people, including members of his family and many well-known faces from the world of stage and politics, joined him in Lausanne to celebrate his birthday.

Soprano Julia Migenes sang "Happy Birthday" and actor Jean-Claude Brialy gave a speech. Former director of the Opera National de Paris dance school, Claude Bessy, joined choreographer John Neumeier and Farah Pahlavi, the former empress of Iran, to extend their best wishes.

New shows

Born on January 1, 1927, Béjart will be quiety celebrating his actual birthdate.

"I love the studio and dancers. I'm looking forward to the end of the Christmas holidays. Two weeks is too long," he says.

The choreographer's longevity is partly down to the energy he gets from his young troupe, but also to his healthy lifestyle.

"You can't do this job for as long as I have without being extremely disciplined – of course with the odd indulgence," he explains.

Fearless

His hectic agenda, however, means that he has little time to watch other people's ballets, with the exception of those of close friends or dancers he knows.

"I have neither the time nor the inclination to see any other shows. I've been to so many," he claims.

"I have to look after myself a bit, as it's harder for me to get around. The company has lots of shows all over the place and others coming up. I'm going to try and follow them where possible," he explains.

One of his new ballets to open in Granada, Spain, in springtime, is a show mixing Catholicism and Islam, two religions that have heavily influenced the Andalusian city.

One thing is sure though – death certainly does not scare him.

"I believe that everyone always dies at the right time. Everyone's lifetime is different, but we always die at the right point in time."

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In brief

Born in Marseille, 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.

In 1960 the company moved to Brussels where it changed its name to the Ballet du XX siècle (Ballet of the 20th century). Béjart moved to Lausanne in 1987 and renamed the company the Béjart Ballet Lausanne.

Béjart was 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.

He has also staged plays and operas, directed films and published several books.

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Key facts

Béjart has staged some 230 different shows.
The most famous are 'Symphonie pour un homme seul' (1955), 'Le Sacre du Printemps' (1959), 'Boléro' (1961), 'L'Oiseau de feu' (1970), 'Notre Faust' (1975), 'Ring um den Ring' (1990) and 'Le Presbythère...!' (1997).

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