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Flash 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 respond.

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