Maurice Béjart (French: [beʒaʁ]; 1 January 1927 – 22 November 2007) was a French-born dancer, choreographer and opera director who ran the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland. He developed a popular expressionistic form of modern ballet, talking vast themes. He was awarded Swiss citizenship posthumously.
1 January 1927
|Died||22 November 2007 (aged 80)|
|Occupation||Dancer, choreographer and opera director|
Maurice-Jean Berger was born in Marseille, France in 1927, the son of French philosopher Gaston Berger. Fascinated by a recital of Serge Lifar, he decided to devote himself entirely to dance. In South France days, he had studied under Mathilde Kschessinska.
In 1945, he enrolled as a corps de ballet at the Opéra de Marseille. From 1946, he had studied under Madam Rousanne (Sarkissian), Léo Staats, Madam Lyubov Yegorova and Olga Preobrajenska at "Studio Wacker", etc. in Paris.
In 1973, with the Ballet du XXe siecle, he premiered "Golestan", on a poem by Sa'di, based on Iranian traditional music. The ballet was commissioned by the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of Arts where it was premiered. The first performance of "Improvisation sur Mallarme III" with music by Boulez also took place at that Festival in 1973. "Farah", also based on Iranian traditional music was the Ballet's own commission, premiered in Brussels in 1976 and brought to the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival that same year. The 1976 Festival also witnessed the first performance of "Heliogabalus", based on a poem by Artaud. The Festival's patron was Farah Pahlavi, the former Empress of Iran, with whom Béjart kept strong ties to the end.
Among his works is a thoroughly revised version of The Nutcracker, presumably inspired by his own life story, which he staged in 2000. It still uses Tchaikovsky's original score, but completely scraps the original plot and characters, instead supplying a new story about a boy's efforts to re-connect with his mother. We also are given a look into the boy's strange sexual fantasies. The production design is full of erotic images — some of which are most likely shocking to many, such as wombs and vaginal openings. One of the characters is Marius Petipa, who becomes Mephisto. Another character is called Felix the Cat, presumably after the famous cartoon character. The production has been issued on DVD.
One of Béjart's masterpiece works of dance was choreography he set to French composer Maurice Ravel's "Boléro." In The New York Times, Jennifer Dunning described Béjart's "Bolero" as "probably his best known and most popular dance." Created in 1960 for the Yugoslav ballerina Duška Sifnios, the dance features a dancer on a tabletop, surrounded by seated men, who slowly participate in the dance, culminating in a climactic union of the dancers atop the table. Amongst the dancers, who would later perform Béjart's interpretation of "Bolero," include Sylvie Guillem from the Paris Opera Ballet, Grazia Galante, Maya Plisetskaya, Angele Albrecht, and Roberto Bolle. In a twist, Jorge Donn also played the role of the principal dancer, becoming the first male to do so. One of Donn's such performances can be seen in French filmmaker Claude Lelouch's 1981 musical epic, Les Uns et les Autres.
Béjart was the founder of several dance schools:
- the Mudra School in Brussels, 1970–1988;
- the Mudra Afrique School in Dakar, 1977–1985;
- the Rudra School in Lausanne, 1992–2007.
The Rudra School is still open and is one of the most famous professional dance schools in the world.
During his lifetime, Béjart received many awards and distinctions for his contributions to the arts.
- He received the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun.
- He received the Belgian Ordre de la Couronne.
- In 1974, he won the Erasmus Prize.
- In 1994, he was appointed to the Académie des Beaux Arts.
- Also in 1994, he received the Deutscher Tanzpreis.
- In 2003, he was appointed Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.
- Also in 2003, he won the Prix Benois de la Danse for lifetime achievement.
- Norwich, John Julius (1985–1993). Oxford illustrated encyclopedia. Judge, Harry George., Toyne, Anthony. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 0-19-869129-7. OCLC 11814265.
- Maurice Béjart
- Béjart, Maurice (1927-2007) Archived 4 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- "Maurice Béjart 1922~2007" Shinsokan Dance Magazine, Special Issue Volume XVII No.4 2008, Japan
- Dunning, Jennifer (25 November 1985). "Dance: Bejart Company Performs 'Bolero'". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
- Anderson, Jack (8 June 1990). "Review/Ballet; Fashion Merger: Dance, Dollars And a New Scent". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
- Cruickshank, Judith (24 November 2007). "Maurice Béjart: Influential choreographer who attracted huge audiences to ballet". The Independent. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- "Bisherige Preisträger*innen" (in German). Retrieved 22 August 2020.
- Béjart Ballet Lausanne
- Rudra Béjart School
- Publications by and about Maurice Béjart in the catalogue Helveticat of the Swiss National Library
- Obituary in The Guardian UK
- Lisa De Rycke (2005). "Maurice Béjart". In Andreas Kotte (ed.). Theaterlexikon der Schweiz (TLS) / Dictionnaire du théâtre en Suisse (DTS) / Dizionario Teatrale Svizzero / Lexicon da teater svizzer [Theater Dictionary of Switzerland] (in French). 1. Zürich: Chronos. p. 150. ISBN 978-3-0340-0715-3. LCCN 2007423414. OCLC 62309181.