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Review 3, 4-10: The Disenchanted
Bejart's Magic, Muzzled Flute
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- This is more
flash than review. It would be presumptuous to suppose to review
a giant like Maurice Bejart having only seen one of his previous
works, and not on his own company. Instead, I'd like to offer some
reflections on space and spectacle inspired by viewing some of Bejart'
s 1981 production of Mozart's "Magic Flute" sans live music Tuesday
night, on his company, in the indoor rock stadium otherwise known
as the Palais des Congres.
Perhaps there are some
spectacles for which a theater like the Palais -- a cold house that's
a palace only in scale, not decor -- would be appropriate. Perhaps
there are even some Bejart spectacles that would even call for such
a gargantuan platform. But this intimately choreographed and danced
production, performed to a taped recording of the Mozart opera by
the Berlin Philharmonic, is not that work.
Let's start with the
music. I can't really see a good excuse for performing what is first
and foremost an opera to dead (as opposed to live) music. The scale
of this particular space -- and that this was not a self-produced
engagement -- argues against the economic defense. On top of that,
the failure of the producers to note the name of the conductor or,
greviously, the names of the principal singers suggests an utter
disdain for the musical element in what, excuse me, was created
as a musical enterprise. But there didn't seem to be a lot of mindfulness
for giving credit; where most theaters here at least make available
a simple program with the casting and other credits to all audience
members, you had to buy the slick program book to even secure the
simple sheet with the casting.
The absence of live
singers made Bejart's decision to have the lead actor speak an all
the more glaring weakness. As Der Sprecher, Babtiste Gahan's delivery
was serviceable for a dancer likely not trained as an actor, but
in the context of the great oracular tradition of French comedians
(as actors are called here), it was tepid. And the attempts at comedy
by all but one of the dancers played as forced.
The exception, worth
noting, was Keisuke Nasuno's Papageno, an embodiment of innocence
radiating an easy and infectious joy and lightness (of spirit and
body) from the moment he appeared toting what looked like a bird
cage on his back. Whether expressing the chirps of the flute with
his crescendo-ing hands, or easy delight in his legs when they're
freed from a harness, Nasuno came closest to catching the musical
spirit of the story.
Exactly what that story
was was harder to catch. I suppose I could have read up on it beforehand,
but I think that a dance's ability to convey story should not depend
on whether the audience already knows the narrative. Had this been
a real opera, super-titles for the German libretto would have been
there to help. But not respecting the music enough to render it
live or even credit the singers, it's not surprising that the producers
didn't provide these.
One final 'note,' if
I can use that word: In the program, Bejart shares, "My ballets
are before all encounters: with music, with life, with death, with
love." I think there are many choreographers -- notably Mark Morris
-- who would argue that dancing to a taped recording is like making
love to an inflatable sex doll. The physical thrill is in the end
empty and one-sided, and the doll doesn't have the opportunity to
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