Tchaikovsky - Maurice Bejart's The Nutcracker / Bejart Ballet Lausanne
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The showman of twentieth-century dance, Maurice Bejart, presents his unique version of the well-loved Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. Using Tchaikovsky's score in its entirety, augmented with popular waltz and accordion music performed on-stage by the legendary Yvette Horner, Bejart takes the original St. Petersburg story as a springboard from which to evoke the memories, emotions, and feelings of his own life's journey from a Marseille childhood. Recorded live at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. Damaas Thijs, Elisabet Ros, Gil Roman, Juichi Kobayashi, Yvette Horner. 103 minutes.
Don't expect battling mice, giant Christmas trees, and waltzing snowflakes in world-renowned choreographer Maurice Bejart's boldly different take on Tchaikovsky's beloved ballet, The Nutcracker. Discarding entirely the traditional story of Clara and the statuette she rescues and accompanies to a candy kingdom, Bejart uses Tchaikovsky's score to accompany his own life story (which only briefly portrays Christmas). When his mother "departs on a long journey," the 7-year-old Bim (danced by Damaas Thijs) is seduced into the world of dance by a character (Gil Roman) who represents both Faust's Mephistopheles and Marius Petipa, the groundbreaking French choreographer and dancer who brought Tchaikovsky's original ballet to life. While Bim learns dance, he still envisions the ideal of his mother, who is represented by a towering Botticelli Venus-like statue and with whom he finally achieves a bond in a near-nude pas de deux that more than hints of incest.
As in the original, the second-act divertissement is mostly different dance vignettes, here represented as acts in a Marseilles circus. In the greatest divergence from the original score, the middle of the act adds a handful of French café tunes featuring Yvette Horner's accordian, which can be heard embellishing a few other dances (and has something of a parallel in Tchaikovsky's innovative use of the celeste). The grand pas de deux, however, is performed very traditionally following Petipa's original choreography. On a screen above the stage, Bejart himself appears in occasional segments explaining certain plot points, and he goes into more detail in the DVD's 22-minute behind-the-scenes feature, which also includes comments from collaborators and members of Bejart's loyal and longstanding company, Théâtre Musical de Paris Châtelet. If your mind is open to a nontraditional production that includes bare-chested boy scouts and a pair perhaps best described as "drag kings," you'll probably be fascinated by this strikingly envisioned, expertly danced performance. --David Horiuchi
- Behind-the-scenes featurette (22 min.)
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Some individuals have an ungratified need for the approval of others and embark on an endless search to obtain it. These individuals come in various varieties. One of them is the seemingly pleasantly grandiose type that operates under the pervasive assumption that everyone likes them because they are so irresistible that it is impossible not to succumb to their charms. It is as if they say to the world: "suspend all judgment and adore me because c'est MOI!" This is basically a massive denial of the fear of rejection in the service of maintaining a narcissistic equilibrium.
Maurice Béjart is such a cultural icon in Europe that he has his own entry in the Encyclopædia Britannica: "pseudonym of MAURICE-JEAN DE BERGER, French-born dancer, choreographer, and opera director known for combining classic ballet and modern dance with jazz, acrobatics, and musique concrète (composition by tape recordings)". His productions are known for their "flamboyant theatricality and their innovative reworking of traditional music and dance materials, often in an unusual and controversial fashion". Béjart's highly non-Balanchinean approach has been neglected and critically savaged in the United States. This nutcracker will do little to appease his American critics.
The ballet features the master talking directly to the viewers between the dancing scenes that take off from the themes he introduces. He starts with his father, continues with his mother, his childhood and seems bound to develop a loosely structured personal story dedicated to the memory of his mother. The best way to describe the way one theme flows to the next is free association. As this was unfolding I began to experience a creeping suspicion of being duped. The other shoe dropped when Gil Roman appeared on stage at the act II divertissement to announce that "the choreographer did not want to change the classical choreography of the grand pas de deux so tonight it will be danced in the original version of Marius Petipa". However, Petipa wrote the libretto, but not the choreography, which was created by Lev Ivanov because Petipa was ill. I therefore assumed that this was some kind of joke. This ironic expectation was sharpened when the two dancers, Christine Blanc and Domenico Levrè, appeared both inexplicably dressed in black. Their technique and so-called style in the grand pas de deux was so inept that I thought this was some kind of parody. But no, that was not meant as a joke but rather as a statement of Béjart's claim for some special indirect connection to and reverence for Petipa.
This ballet does not have much to do with Christmas, Tchaikovsky's nutcracker or even the obsession of the young Maurice with his mother who died when he was seven. It seems that what this ballet is about is Béjart's infatuation with himself. Many artists are narcissistically involved. What sets this work apart is the embarrassingly self-indulgent quality of this artist's preoccupation. There is no sense of irony here or any artistic distance from the subject. When an artist uses his own life and memories as material for his work, it is usually the result of a complicated process that involves wisdom, insight and perspective. In order to see something in perspective you need both empathy and distance. Judging by this material it seems that Béjart's mother died before he had the chance to develop the capacity to perceive her as a separate individual other than in the context of his needs. In other words Béjart never really knew his mother and therefore doesn't have much to say about her or about his relationship with her.
Unlike his deceased mother, Béjart's grandmother is painfully available to comment on petit Maurice. She informs us what a wonderful little boy he was and how she was not at all surprised at his fame, as he had always been so special. Initially I was shocked by the absurdity of this. Surely this must be ironic. But apparently not. Béjart seems to assume that anything relating to himself is bound to infect us with the kind of unconditional adoration and approval that only children and lovers claim as their God-given right.
Béjart has a masterly sense of theatre and he knows how to bring out the best in his dancers' personalities. They have to know how to talk, sing and dance. His weakness lies in his manipulating sensational theatricality at the expense of thematic coherence. As René Sirvin put it so well, his "Casse-Noisette" has "un peu de tout, et même parfois de trop". This disjointed mishmash is at best kitsch. With the exception of a few brilliant numbers it does not rise above the banal. On repeat viewing I felt that the major element that was missing in a work dedicated to a mother lost at the age of seven was the emotion of sadness. Children cannot conceptualize death and loss in the same way as adults, but even they can feel sadness. Béjart exposed his artistic shortcomings as an extension and expression of his own infantile self.
L'Orchestre Colonne's playing is the highlight of this performance, hardly a compliment as they enjoy a growing reputation as one of the worst orchestras in France. There seems to be a constant lack of proportion between Tchaikovsky's lush score and Béjart's rehearsal-room esthetics. His style becomes at synch with the music only during the added modern pieces when the orchestra is joined by an ageing music hall accordionist, Yvette Horner, bedecked in Jean-Paul Gaultier. This amounts to Tchaikovsky abuse.
Picture, sound quality and lighting are almost perfect.
Tchaikovsky's score is augmented with French cafe songs and interpolated apache dancers. Many, myself included, will find the inclusion of the onstage accordion offensive. The batty smile of the player recalls a half-snockered reincarnation of the late televangist Katherine Kuhlman. True, the dancing is technically adept and Elisabeth Roos' costumes are a welcome exception to the aggressive ugliness of the production.
"Eurotrash" might have been coined to describe this trainwreck. The late Walter Legge, impresario, recording executive, and founder of the Philharmonia Orchestra once commented that if comtemporary opera directors and scenic designers persisted in putting rubbish on stage they should be compelled to write the libretti and music for their work. Monsieur Bejart certainly re-wrote the scenario but the result is akin to a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
in his life, deciding what his sexuality will be, weaning himself from his mother, etc. The dancing is fine. The story is fine also, I disagree with the high brow attitudes of some dance people, just watch the ballet and enjoy it, you don't have to be an expert or be so picky. The dancers in this ballet are good, don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Why be so critical and negative? These people worked hard to create this ballet.
I think they deserve some credit.
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