Maurice Bejart Ballet in Kyiv “My ballets are, ahead of anything else, encounters with music, with love, with people whose creative achievements and past find a radiant embodiment in me.”
Maurice Bejart

Maurice Bejart, one of the top ballet choreographers of the world, with a troupe of Bejart Ballet Lausanne of almoust fifty people and a film crew, came to Kyiv on his first visit to this city.

Maurice Bejart, French-born choreographer and dancer, is known for his highly effective, often expressionistic works. Originally named Maurice Jean de Berger, he was born in Marseille, France, in 1927. He danced with the French choreographer Roland Petit and in various companies. In 1953 in Paris he formed the Ballets de l'Étoile (later known as the Ballet of the 20th Century), which in 1960 moved to the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium. In 1961, Béjart launched his career as an opera director with Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, followed, in 1964, by Berlioz' Damnation of Faust. The Ballet of the 20th Century became one of the foremost dance companies in the world. Béjart's productions with the Twentieth Century troupe were notable for their flamboyant theatricality and their innovative reworking of traditional music and dance materials, often in an unusual and controversial fashion. Bejart has produced many grand-scale spectacles, using classically trained ballet dancers while drawing on the choreographic effects of both modern dance and acrobatics.

In his productions he has employed erotic elements, as in Bolero, and social and political themes, as in The Firebird. His company has performed in untraditional settings, appearing in front of large crowds in sports arenas or circuses. Bejart has employed grand theatrical effects in his choreographies, including the use of literature readings and multimedia elements. Many of his works have emphasized male dancers. In 1988, Bejart moved his group to Lausanne, Switzerland.Choreographer Maurice Bejart is the creator of epoch-making choreographies such as The Rites of Spring, Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, and The Marvellous Mandarin. He has carried out musical and philosophical studies into extra-European traditions and produced ballets such as Bahkti and Kabuki.
He has been elected free member of the Fine Arts Academy of the Institut de France. In April 1998. a fashion and ballet show was held in Moscow - in honour of fashions designer Ganni Versace who was shot dead by a serial killer in Miami Beach, Florida, in July, 1997. Perhaps, more importantly, the fashion show was flanked with a performance by Béjart Ballet Lausanne.
Béjart and Versace were good friends. Versace designed costumes for a number of Béjart's ballets, now Béjart created a new work in Versace's honour that had its world premiere in Moscow. It's called Bolero for Gianni and used the famous Bolero score by Maurice Ravel. This is the second time Béjart has used Ravel's Bolero. His first go at it, almost 40 years ago, soon became one of Béjart's most popular ballets, so re-choreographing it for Versace is a very particular tribute. Perhaps, one of the more notable Béjart’s recent productions is Ballet For Life performed by Maurice Béjart’s famous ballet company, with costumes designed by Gianni Versace. Ballet For Life is an intensely moving work which draws its inspiration from the lives of Freddie Mercury and Maurice Béjart’s former principal dancer, Jorge Donn both of whom died of AIDS. Béjart’s score of Queen material is drawn from right across Queen’s rich catalogue, opening to It’s A Beautiful Day with the complete dance troupe appearing, as if in the clouds, behind white sheets. The ballet conveys a series of emotions - love, fear, hope, humour and loss amongst many others. Not only are these emotions clearly interpreted but they are easy to relate to by every person.

On the Ukrayina Palace stage.
Ballet For Life was first performed in the Théâtre de Challot, Paris, in January 1997, in the presence of Madame Chirac, Elton John and the three surviving members of Queen, John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor. Since then, the ballet continued to tour extensively around the world. “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 - who each time embodies characters that go beyond him...
I love Queen, they are inspiration for me, they guide me and from time to time in this ‘no man’s land’ where we will all go one day, I’m sure Freddie Mercury plays the piano with Mozart. A ballet about youth and hope, since I am a hopeless optimist and believe that in spite of everything, ‘the show must go on’ like Queen sings it.” Maurice Béjart brought to Kyiv three one-act ballets to be performed on three successive nights. The technically superb eurythmics is accompanied by the music of rain, by singing of birds and by silence. “Modern techno music scares me off with its militarism.”
One can also trace a certain general theme of his ballets - liberation from the burden of traditions. It is particularly clear in Firebird to the music of Igor Stravynsky. “My generation owns a lot to Serge Lifar. If not for him, we’d not have realized our ambitions. Lifar has given a new dimension to the art of dance.”Béjart’s ballet troupe has 32 dancers from 16 countries, including black dancers. No matter what is said about the innovations of Béjart, his troupe is based on the good old classical tradition. It is not surprising since one of the teachers in his ballet school, Rudra (it is one of the seven names of Shiva), is Azariy Plysetsky, brother of Maya Plysetska, the famous ballerine. Béjart also had a ballet school in Senegal, where his father comes from, called Mudra (“Gesture”).
Watching his ballets, you notice that everyone of the dancers could be a soloist. They have aristocratic grace, energetic vigour, photogenic appearance, their handsomeness is enhanced by the make-up. The Kyiv audience was captivated by the Béjart Ballet performances in the central concert hall of Kyiv, Palats Ukrayina. Students of the Kyiv Choreography School danced in Bolero. The Master praised their high professional level and invited then to his school in Lausanne. Studies are free there, and the most talented are given scholarships.In Kyiv, Béjart was made an honorary Academician of the State Ukrainian Academy of Dance. But he does not care very much for honorifics. The Kyiv ballet lovers saw a new version of Igor and I and with the music of Stravynsky who, incidentally, was born in Kyiv.Only on the first night the hall that can seat four thousand people was not full. The Alfa Capital Company which organizes visits of ballet stars to Kyiv, promptly realized what had to be done and reduced the prices for the tickets. Kyiv is a city where ballet is appreciated.

Kyiv ballet troupes go on tours to Japan, France, Spain and other countries and their art is widely appreciated. One of the best ballets is The Sleeping Beauty in the Kyiv Opera and Ballet Theatre. Béjart also noted the spontaneity of the audience: “Kyivites took part in the performance by their loud applause at the unexpected moments which the dancers liked very much.”Azariy Plysetsky, who has known Béjart for thirty years now, said that the Master was a man of high culture, respectful of everybody he worked with. But at the same he demands much from his performers. He is very hard-working and curious about everything that is happening in the world.

Scenes from the Greatcoat ballet.

Everybody was looking forward to see The Greatcoat based on a story by Nickolai Gogol, a great Russian writer (Ukrainian born) of the nineteenth century. The story is about “the little man” who is robbed of his coat for which he has spent all the money he has saved. Hugo Le Bar who has already written 8 ballets for the Master, was commissioned to write music. The premiere was widely applauded. There was magic of Gogol in it that makes him our contemporary. When asked about his optimism for the third millennium, Mr Béjart said: “My optimism is not quite well grounded. Everything that happens in the world does not add optimism. Probably, I’m naive but I believe in the better side of man. The deeper you fall the higher you will rise. Under such conditions compassion is of great importance.”He is compassionate. Dressed in black and red, his favourite colours, he looks very elegant. He is Muslim.

He likes cats, he likes fast driving. Even in Kyiv he looked from the windows of a Mercedes car. “Kyiv is one the greenest and quietest places I’ve seen.” He was impressed by the Andriyivsky Uzviz, a street of artists’ studios.In December, Paris will see Béjart’s Nutcracker. This ballet will open the season in Versailles in the summer of 2000. During his travels, most of the time is taken by rehearsals. Between them and filming and performances five books were written. Only two are known in Ukraine: The Moments in the Life of Another and Whose Life. “My life is well regulated in every respect - work, friendship - and nothing else.”

Materials for the article have been supplied by Heorhiy-Hryhoriy Pylypenko
Photos by Oleksiy Semenenko