Alexandra

Bejart's "The Firebird"

26 posts in this topic

Bejart. Now that's a name we don't often mention on these boards! Bejart was THE avant-garde ballet choreographer of the 1960s and '70s, very popular in Europe, performed in football stadiums (I regret not having seen the ballet where the dancers entered on motorcycles). He was controversial. I had one friend who called him "the anti-Christ, and I mean that literally," and another who thought he was as classical as Balanchine.

His works aren't often danced here, but I just got a press release that the Alvin Ailey Company (which has a tradition of dancing in all styles, including ballet; Ailey choreographed a few ballets with the women on point) will be dancing Bejart's "The Firebird" this fall. I saw the ballet back in the late '70s, when Bejart was going through a rechoreographing old Ballets Russes (and Ballet Russe) ballets phase. I remember it as lots of men in red -- it was made in the aftermath of the Danny the Red period, if I'm remembering correctly, when all good young men were Communists -- and the Firebird (a male dancer; Clifton Brown for Ailey, by the photos) rises from the ashes, like a Phoenix. All this is from memory, so if someone has a better, or more recent, acquaintance with the work, please correct me!

Anyone seen this one? Anyone curious to see it? What about Bejart, generally?

Share this post


Link to post

What I've read of the concept makes this sound interesting. For a glimpse of Bejart's choreography, check out YouTube, which has a few minutes of Ramon Flowers (from Bejart's Lausanne company) dancing the berceuse. Type in: "Bejart the Fire Bird."

Share this post


Link to post

bejart's FIREBIRD was toured here, at least once, if mem. serves the leads were alternately paolo bortoluzzi and michel denard.

the basic costuming, until the the moment the firebird character is stripped of his 'uniform', is regulation blue, 'mao' fatigues, w/ caps if mem. serves. the firebird costume is a red unitard cut low in the front and banded, in red, across the pectorals.

there is no characterization other than the lone, distinctly different appearance of the 'firebird' from the general ensemble.

i suppose some attention has been paid in print to the 'individual vs. the mass' socialist equation that bejart was working to describe.

the AAADT gave a preview of the season a few weeks ago with an excerpt of a new work for the upcoming season by camille brown and a run-through of FIREBIRD.

i suspect, tho' i haven't checked, that croce's early bejart essay(s) include some mention of this work, i know i saw it way back when at the brooklyn academy of music.

Share this post


Link to post

It's not Firebird, but Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed "Scene d'Amour" from Bejart's Romeo and Juliet duirng the Spring 2007 season at the Kennedy Center.

From the thread in our Archives,

kwf wrote:

The Bejart is kitsch, but the two young lovers, Hubbard and Prescott were so adorable I didn't care.

tutumaker wrote:

Following a brief pause, Scène d'amour from Romeo and Juliet was performed. This was my favorite from both shows. Others can call it "noodleing." I would respond that they just don't "get"  Béjart! Maybe one must be a Baby Boomer to fully appreciate it?

and Jack Reed responded:

I haven't seen a lot of Bejart's choreography either, MDNJ, although I have some memories of my one look at his Le Sacre du printemps (on Balanchine's published recommendation) years ago, and I can see how one may take the Scene d'amour from his Romeo and Juliet as kitsch, as kfw does - although I think it's partly the choreography that makes us take the lovers to our hearts - but I was constantly struck by how Bejart hears in Berlioz's wonderful music occasion for developing stage action, including the intrusion of the (other) Capulets and Montagues. Even though I don't hear some of these occasions when I listen to the music alone. Berlioz's music doesn't require completion, but, similar to Balanchine but in his different way, Bejart incorporates it into a larger something without looking foolish, as some of the "symphonic" choreographers did, I believe.

For many, these performances were the first live performances of Bejart they had seen. (A short excerpt of Farrell and Donn in R&J is shown in the Elusive Muse documentary.)

Thinking about it a few months later, is there anything people who attended Suzanne Farrell Ballet performances would add?

Share this post


Link to post

I'd just say that the Romeo and Juliet excerpt didn't help me understand why Bejart was considered to be a major choreographer :)

Share this post


Link to post
Anyone seen this one? Anyone curious to see it? What about Bejart, generally?

Maurice Bejart was 80 in January this year and the very mention of his name to some of my friends is to see the shape of their jackets change as hackles rise to start a diatribe against him.

There is much more to Maurice Bejart than meets the eye and often though however much less choreographic skill than his fame might convey. He is a producer of spectacles which can mask the choreographic content and annoy dance critics.

Arlene Croce once famously said his company was about "the cult of the dancer" and in some ways she was correct. However he made some extraordinary works that gave magnificent roles to dancers in such works as, "Nijinsky Clown of God"

Whether Helene your friends reaction to call Bejart, "the anti-Christ, and I mean that literally," may arise from his homo-erotic ballets, his seemingly communist politics at one time as expressed in his "Firebird" or his conversion to Sufism in 1984.

Bejart’s credentials in the classical ballet world came from a solid foundation as his teachers included, Léo Staats, Lubov Egorova, and Madama Rousanne. But his fame arose from his creations of ballets that originated with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe.

He sought the cross boundaries from the beginning when he choreographed “Symphonie pour un homme seul “ in 1955 to an electronic score. It was however his production of "The Rite of Spring" in Brussels in 1959 that his fame began and brought about his decision to form his Ballet of the 20th Century.

With his aim to create "total theatre" he began his hit and miss career which has sadly seen him reduced to working with a not very good company in Lausanne when he had previously been surrounded by extraordinary balletic stars.

His version of "The Firebird" to be performed by AAAD arose from events of 1968 when Paris was on the edge of a revolution with 12,000,000 workers on strike and these elements are reflected in his production.

I saw important dancers like Maina Gielgud, Suzanne Farrell and Sylvie Guillem with his company and the extraordinary Paolo Bortoluuzzi and Jorge Donn and for the Bolshoi Legend Vladimir Vasiliev when he created bejart created "Petrushka" for him.

Bejart has always been a great publicist who attract a non-dance audience in masses.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Leonid. That's my take on Bejart as well -- classically trained and very knowledgeable about ballet, a company of many very good and interesting dancers, and an aesthetic that put theater above all.

Share this post


Link to post

While at Rudra, I had the opportunity to interact with M. Béjart on a few occasions, and he struck me as an extraordinary person, but I have never really been that enamored of his choreography, although I do find much of it interesting, and I enjoy the way he combines various theatrical art forms such as singing and theatre (in which the dancers are trained at Rudra) into his works. In fact, he usually hires dancers who can also sing well. This combination rubs off on the dancers--when they put together a celebration for his birthday, it became apparent how talented they all are, performing comedy sketches and cabaret songs in addition to their own choreography. None of them was an international star, of course, but at the time I was there the point was not just to be a ballet dancer.

I enjoy Béjart's "Firebird" as I think it is pretty well constructed, interesting, and effective, but of course I prefer the original Fokine. :)

Share this post


Link to post

The Ailey company is in London next week and Bejart's Firebird is included in a Best of Ailey programme (along with Twyla Tharp's Golden Section and Revelations) - so there will certainly be plenty of comment in the press, and maybe here too.

Share this post


Link to post

I didn't realize that, Jane -- thank you. It's a curious -- and interesting -- choice of a work to revive, I think. (And that looks like a good program! I hope they bring it here.)

Share this post


Link to post
[bejart has always been a great publicist who attract a non-dance audience in masses.

Maybe this emphasis on theatre is why 'Nijinsky Clown de Dieu' worked so well at the Palais des Sports--which I recall as rather barn-like, but was only there the one time. At any rate, I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen it, and I had a poster of Farrell in it on the wall of my Paris apartment the entire time I lived there. My friend who accompanied me kept saying 'si souple! si souple!'

Share this post


Link to post

I remember enjoying Bejart's Firebird in the late (?) 70's with, I think, some Paris Opera dancers in the lead roles. Bejart's site refers to a "new version" choreographed for the Paris Opera in October 1970. I could not find an "old version" on that site, but the Ailey Company refers to 1964 (21 minutes) on their site. Whatever version this is, I really look forward to seeing it this winter season. Here are the New York dates (including the Opening Night Gala) as given by Ailey as of last month:

FIREBIRD, by Maurice Béjart

Peformance dates: Nov. 28, Dec. 1(eve), Dec.2(mat), Dec. 2(eve), Dec. 8(mat), Dec. 16(eve), Dec. 19, Dec. 23(mat), Dec. 27, Dec. 28, Dec. 30(eve), & Dec. 31

(I should note that their more recently released full schedule also lists a Firebird for the evening of December 15.)

OT: I'd really like to see them take on NYCB's version: Alicia J. Graf would be a bird that dreams are made of...

Share this post


Link to post
Anyone seen this one? Anyone curious to see it? What about Bejart, generally?

With his aim to create "total theatre" he began his hit and miss career which has sadly seen him reduced to working with a not very good company in Lausanne when he had previously been surrounded by extraordinary balletic stars.

Bejart has always been a great publicist who attract a non-dance audience in masses.

Bejart Ballet Lausanne is not very good company?!!!!!!!

I'm a dance historian and dance critic. I'm watching this company from years and I don't agree with this opinon. BBL it is very good neoclassical company, one of the best in Europe, there are a lot of magnificent solists like Gil Roman, Elisabet Ros, Ruth Miro, Julien Fevreau, Catherine Zuasnabar, Domenico Levre, Victor Jimenez. Besides when Bejart left Brussels in 1987 and moved to Lausanne basicly he only changed a name of the company, because dancers from "Ballet of the XXth century" moved with him.

It is true that Bejart attracted a so called "non- dance" audience (this is very popular, one and only conclusion in America) but dance audience, critics, dancers and other great European artists like Fellini, Grotowski ......admired him too

Share this post


Link to post
I enjoy Béjart's "Firebird" as I think it is pretty well constructed, interesting, and effective, but of course I prefer the original Fokine. :beg:

Actually his "Firebird" was performed again by the POB a few seasons ago. I saw it and share Hans' impressions ("pretty well constructed, interesting, and effective"), sometimes it looked a bit dated (the Mao-collar blue costumes) but the main role is quite interesting, and I even enjoyed Karl Paquette's dancing (in general he's a dancer I don't like much, but he was quite good in that role).

Béjart's relationship with the POB always have been quite complicated- as have been Petit's-, there were periods when the POB performed a lot of his works and other periods when he didn't want them to perform anything by him... In the last few years, the relationship seems to be quite good- perhaps because Brigitte Lefèvre used to perform in Béjart works when the was a POB dancer in the 1960s and 1970s. Actually, I have a posted (taken from a dance magazine of the 1970s) with photographs of several Béjart works, and one photo from "The Firebird" features, among others, Ms Lefèvre herself :rofl: This "Firebird" featured Michael Denard in the lead role, he was a premier danseur then, and it was after that role that he was promoted to étoile. There even was a book which was published about ("Michaël Denard danse l'Oiseau de feu", by Anne Duvernoy and Colette Masson). As on the first things which made me feel interested in ballet when I was a teen-ager happened to be a book about Denard by Sylvia Chaban, as you can imagine that was a work I was looking forward to seeing for quite a while- but well, when I finally was able to see it, it was years and years later and I was far less interested in Béjart... But so far it probably was the Béjart work I enjoyed the most (Stravinsky's wonderful score probably helped).

Share this post


Link to post

For some reason I didn't see the following post when it appeared, and was glad to read the following. By the way, Welcome to Ballet Talk, Joanna Llidia! I hope you'll joing the convesations, sharing your viewing experiences and your thoughts, in the future.

Bejart Ballet Lausanne is not very good company?!!!!!!!

I'm a dance historian and dance critic. I'm watching this company from years and I don't agree with this opinon. BBL it is very good neoclassical company, one of the best in Europe, there are a lot of magnificent solists like Gil Roman, Elisabet Ros, Ruth Miro, Julien Fevreau, Catherine Zuasnabar, Domenico Levre, Victor Jimenez. Besides when Bejart left Brussels in 1987 and moved to Lausanne basicly he only changed a name of the company, because dancers from "Ballet of the XXth century" moved with him.

It is true that Bejart attracted a so called "non- dance" audience (this is very popular, one and only conclusion in America) but dance audience, critics, dancers and other great European artists like Fellini, Grotowski ......admired him too

I haven't seen all that much Bejart, and not for a long time. But my impression is closer to Joanna's than Leonid's. I know that an evening of Bejart was always interesting, stimulating, and ... enjoyable. I'd certaily I've also heard good things about the Lausanne company, given the size and the repertory.

Here's a LINK to the page on Firebird on the Lausanne site. I gather it is not in current rep.

Share this post


Link to post

I think it's safe to say that M. Bejart is, and has always been, very controversial. Doing a ballet about Mother Theresa taking barre didn't help :beg: There are some who adore Bejart, and in his heyday he was considered by many The Great Choreographer (I have a dance encyclopedia from the mid-70s that list many more Bejart ballets than Balanchine ballets, for example.) And there are just as many who would agree with Leonid. (Re Joanna, it always fascinates me when we have someone zoom in to post a very strong opinion on someone and is never heard from again...... I hope she comes back to join the discussions.)

Share this post


Link to post

I guess Arlene Croce was one of the prime nay-sayers when it came to Bejart. For Croce, the name "Bejart" often goes hand in hand with words like "Eurotrash," "cheesy," or -- in one memorably cutting example -- "polyester." As to his choregraphy, Croce wrote in the 70s:

People speak of Bejart as if he were a choreographer. He is, rather, a purveyor of sensation, like the movie directors Russell and Fellini, and ballet is just one of the glutting effects he uses. And yes, he uses dancers -- hollows them out and consumes them.

Ouch! The argument may be ad hominem, and unsupported either by description or analysis, but it hurts all the same.

I just had another look at some YouTube clips of Firebird, Afternoon of a Faun, Rite of Spring, Nutcracker, and something called Bakti (Kirov: Vishneva/Kolb). Firebird -- although the clip is brief -- was my favorite, both for the way Bejart relates movement to music (not always his strength) and for the eerie quality of Ramon Flowers' performance. I wish I'd seen Paris do it. Thanks, Estelle, for your post on that.

Share this post


Link to post

Well, personnaly, I'm not very fond of most of his works, but his thought is most interesting. I don't know if his books have been translated in English but if they are it's worth the reading. I would say that somewhere, they're more interesting than his choregraphical works. In Europe, he's still a myth, including among POB's school students. His work I like the most is Don Giovanni's Variations. I really enjoyed it but I guess that must be his most classical choreo...

Share this post


Link to post

Has anyone seen Bejart's version of The Nutcracker? Sections are on YouTube. The Sugar Plum Fairy pdd seems quite conventional, and conventionally danced. The Act I variations seem to be taking place in a circus, with a couple of people on bicycles.

Share this post


Link to post

this NUTCRACKER was on released on videocassette & perhaps may now be on dvd. i haven't checked on line but i suspect it may still be 'in print'.

Share this post


Link to post
...there are a lot of magnificent solists like (...), Catherine Zuasnabar,(...)

:cool: Wow, you never know when and how one will come across a forgotten name. She was one of the young promises of Ballet Nacional de Cuba more than 10 years ago, and suddenly dissapeared. Also, one of our many black dancers. (Specially remember her Godmother Fairy in BNC/ Strauss's "Cinderella") Anyways, back to Bejart...

Share this post


Link to post

I danced the role of a partisan in Bejart's Firebird. Jan Nuyts staged the work for SFB during the 70s. It was very satisfying dancing, as I recall...extremely intense and athletic. Men and women shared this athletic and visual equality in the ballet (and in our blue jumpsuits, as well...). I like the fact that the Firebird is male. I can only imagine how wonderful Paolo Bartolucci must have been as the Firebird. The music (Stravinsky) is just so fabulous...and dancing to a live orchestra...fantastic!

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you for that memory, Gina. I am always fascinated to hear from dancers what it feels like to perform certain works. Sometimes, knowing how much a particular role or choreography has challenged and rewarded the dancer helps me to look at it differently. This frequently means: appreciating it more.

I also like the option of having the Firebird danced by a man. Malakhov would be wonderful, I should think. The role (separate from the steps) seems to transcends gender . I've watched only two excerpts of the male version of Firebird -- in each case, the berceuse, which is essentially a solo. What I have not had the chance to see, is how Bejart handles the persuit of the Firebird by the Prince (or equivalent). How is this done? Or is it omitted? If it is part of Bejart's version, how are the pdd's handled?

Share this post


Link to post

Yes, I agree that Malakhov would be perfect for the role. Bejart's Firebird character needs to be an exceptional dancer with flexibility; impeccable line with great fluidity and clarity. There is no Prince character. The ballet begins with the partisans searching for something...you sense rebellion, perhaps a resistance movement. One of the partisans casts off his clothes to reveal himself in red as the chosen one. The partisans are in awe and follow his every move. The theme is rebellion, revolution, war (the firebird is slain), then rebirth with the appearance of the Phoenix (who is dressed exactly the same as the Firebird). The only pas de deux might be some symbolic partnering of the Firebird and Phoenix (one lifts the other aloft...or, holding each other tightly, arms stretched allongee, hips connected, etc.) It was a long time ago that I performed this ballet, but the "partisans" had a lot of technically challenging choreography which required an intensity of focus and emotion. I'm trying to remember if there were more "red suits" coming on at the close of the ballet....many more Firebirds...I'm a little foggy here. The ending is very triumphant/victorious, which reflects the score beautifully. I liked this ballet.

Share this post


Link to post