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Flash Flashback, 11-29: Freddy's Dead
Bejart Makes Sure the Show goes on
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 Paul Ben-Itzak
(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Flash Archive. This Flash Review was first posted April 22, 2003. Maurce Bejart passed away November 22 at the age of 80. )
PARIS -- Well, I still
feel less than qualified to review Maurice Bejart, by dint of being
such a scant viewer of his oeuvre, but after seeing his "Le Presbytere"
(the name has nothing to do with the piece, the choreographer just
liked the word) Friday at the Palais des Congres, a couple of things
are clear: A Bejart spectacle works and works its magic on the audience
because despite being thematically over the top, the creator is
a choreographic, compositional, and musical past master, and in
the dancers of Bejart Ballet Lausanne he has interpreters who invest
themselves spirit and soul in his subject -- on this occasion, AIDS/SIDA,
life/death, and the music of Freddy Mercury and Mozart.
In case all you know
of Mercury, the lead singer for Queen who died of complications
related to AIDS -- or SIDA as it's called here -- is "We are the
Champions" and "We Will Rock You," the man could waltz with schmaltz,
and it shows up right away in Bejart's spectacle with the group
number "It's a Beautiful Day." As the dancers rose from white sheets,
I was on my way to an it's going to be a long evening groan when
the winning spirit of the performers, the facile choreography, and
the STORY that Bejart had created swept me away.
His first piece of structural
genius is to feature four central characters who neatly encompass
all his motifs: In the performance I saw, Julien Favreau as the
campy, queeny, bare-chested, Fabio-like Freddy; senior company dancer
and assistant director Gil Roman as the relatively sober dance pivot;
and the energetic and focused Stephane Bourhis paired with the dignified
and melancholic Claire Galtier as the central couple ravished by
love and, perhaps, ravaged by AIDS, anchoring the tale, if you will,
to its serious purpose. This is best signified by a line uttered
by Roman, to the effect of: They told us to make love not war. Why
is love making war on us? The effect of this distribution of responsibilities
is that Favreau is free to go off the campy deep end without dragging
the sober story off the serious side of its purpose.
With all due credit
to Favreau's Freddy, who struts about (a different flamboyant costume
at each appearance, natch) lip-synching so convincingly to Mercury's
music that you start to believe he's singing, it's Roman's dancing,
a thread throughout the 21 pieces, that keeps you riveted. He's
almost a Svengali, not just responding to the music but seeming
to control it and manipulate it, arresting it or sweeping it (and
us) away with him at will. He's gripping in a somber, extended solo
to Mozart's "Musique Funebre Maconnique" that ends with a blackly
comic and grinning shuffle off to Buffalo, but the killer moment
is -- wait for it -- when a white scrim suddenly drops downstage
and Roman zooms in front of it for a razor-sharp shadow dance to
the "Galileo" section of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The music
may be campy, but the choreography and its execution are jaggedly
clean. Unlike Bejart's version of Mozart's "Magic Flute," the Queen
music here is stadium rock and thus fits the over-sized venue perfectly.
As any rocker knows, stadium rock also delivers its intimate moments
-- here, the power-ballad "Love of My life" into "Brighton Rock,"
in live concert recordings to which Bejart sets two couples slow
dancing, the personnel including Roman and a charming Luisa Diaz
As for Galtier and Bourhis,
they bookend the story's tragic and romantic dimensions, first in
an extended choreography to Mozart's "Concerto 21" where they are
trundled about on hospital beds, so close and yet so far, and later
in a romp to "Winter's Tale" in which they burst a pillow and toss
its downy feathers whimsically about them. Both dancers are sensuously
and heartbreakingly topless here, and it works. Bejart often leaves
Bourhis lingering for the following section, a ghostly reminder
of the spectre that hangs over all the camp, like the shadow soldiers
that haunt Paul Taylor's "Company B."
In addition to the overall
charming spirit of both sexes in the corps, the boys particularly
shine in "Radio Gaga," where one by one, vulnerably clad in only
black shorts, they enter and, at right angle turns, step up into
a boxed structure until there are at least a dozen of them cramming
it, some climbing the walls, some choreographically contained in
their individual worlds. Bourhis is the last to enter, of course
-- and the last to leave.
Before the show-stopping
ending, we're treated to the great Bejart dancer Jorge Donn, a Paganini
breaking down on film to "I Want to Break Free."
The show does go on,
to the Mercury number of that name. By the time Bejart himself appears,
at the curtain call, to lead the dancers slowly forward to repeated
choruses of "The show must go on," you're with them.
Bejart also shakes the
hand of each and every dancer, which is, unfortunately, more credit
than the show's producer, Gerard Louvin, saw fit to grant them.
Here in Paris, we don't have Stagebills or Playbills. But while
you need to purchase the slick and well-produced programs, most
theaters hand out for free a basic handbill with the essential credits,
including the names of the dancers. This did not happen in the two
performances I attended at the Palais des Congres.
The show can't go on
without the dancers, and we need to remember their names.