A Friend Of Romania - Interview With Maurice Béjart

In one of the marvelous spots of Switzerland I met Maurice Béjart, the choreographer that refreshed all forms of movements and made of dance the art of the 20th century. In Lausanne, Maurice Béjart continues to live creating and philosophizing for the synthetic art with its echoes of sensitive intelligence. Together with the representatives of the organizers of the "Ballet for life" show, a unique event that took place in Bucharest on 19 October 2000, I had the privilege of entering the universe of Maurice Béjart's school and company in Lausanne. It is a quiet place, full of warmth and friendship, a place where Maurice Béjart decided to start another company after leaving Belgium. He is the one who metamorphosed the art of dancing into a real song of the Earth. He has been stirring consciences and touching spirits for almost half a century. Overwhelmingly simple, of a typically Mediterranean warmth and with a sure and calm mind, Maurice Béjart makes you feel immediately at ease in his presence. Silvia Ciurescu:'Hello, Maurice Béjart. Meeting you is a very special moment for me as I have dreamt, ever since my time at the Choreography School in Bucharest, I might get to know you one day. I can assure you there are millions of Romanians that would love to be in my place. At the beginning of this interview I would like to know if Maurice Béjart, the creator, has any "magic formula"?'Maurice Béjart:'I think everybody has such a magic formula. It consists of work, and work again. First of all, I don't think you can have anything without love. You have to love your work, your profession. When you work with dancers, you have to love them too. Secondly, this requires a lot of time. I'm now 73 and I'm just beginning to understand what dance is.'S.C.:'The great periods of life and history are marked by sinuous evolutions, with ups and downs. Have you been through such times?'M.B.:'I can tell you I had the chance to start at the bottom. I lived down there for a very long time, after that I got up there and I hope to never go down again. But between 20 and 28 I never knew in the morning if I'd have anything to eat in the evening. I didn't know if I'd have enough money to pay the dancers. I couldn't actually pay them. I had no subsidies, neither from the state, nor private, nor public, nor anything. I just kept dancing; sometimes I had no work; sometimes I sold vegetables in the market or worked at night to make some money. The beginning was very difficult. I was indeed very low when I started. And now I've decided to stay up there…'S.C.: 'France is a crossroad in the "heart of dance". The Kirov School was founded by a Frenchman, Charles Didelot. Marius Petipa, who is, just like you, from Marseille, has created some of the greatest masterpieces of classical dance. Are you a follower of these personalities or have you decided to break free from tradition?'M.B.:'I feel like a link in a chain that cannot be broken. Personally, I don't believe in revolutions. The only thing revolutions bring about is dictatorship. What I do believe in is evolution. I think any society has to evolve because things have to change. But when they're changed in a brutal way, there occurs a break and then a step backwards. I think I'm the follower of all the great classical choreographers. I've been looking for my own path though, I'm still doing that. I have a school, RUDRA, where I teach different dancing techniques and the love for looking into the future… I don't think there should be any breaks. I think life is like a river…. If you build a dam, there will always be catastrophes.' S.C.:'It's a well-known fact that Maurice Béjart has the great merit of having freed dance from the domination of the Opera performance and of giving it back its universal dimension. Mr. Béjart, could this be a sort of prophetic sign to be found at the basis of what is nowadays the political concept of "globalization"?'M.B.:'I don't like the word "globalization" very much. The Earth is a globe, but to globalize means to bring everything together. I do believe that the world is a unity, that's true, but the Chinese are Chinese, the Indians – Indians. I think that we all have to preserve our specific culture, while knowing the culture of other people as well. I've studied different cultures. First in Europe, then the Indian and Japanese cultures, but I think we shouldn't accept globalization. This feeling of belonging to the universe is very strange and difficult. We're brothers but on different continents. Each of us has to contribute the best in them, and not to mix everything in a sort of "stupid stew".'S.C.:'How did you manage to create, in the 1960's, an international structure for 60 dancers?'M.B.:'Without wanting to mix things, I've always been prone to an international culture. I'm French but studied dancing in London, then Stockholm. I worked a lot in Germany and Spain, then settled in Brussels, and now I'm in Lausanne. I'm already a kind of migrant. I've always collaborated with dancers from countries all over the world. When I started the company in Brussels, in the 1960's, my first two dancers were Dutch and Yugoslavian. It's already a world!… The leading dancer Casado was Spanish, Bortoluzzi was Italian. Very soon the Japanese arrived… and so on and so forth. I needed people. But let's talk about your country too.'S.C.:'I know that over the years you've had frequent meetings and contacts with artistic personalities from Romania. You've often been invited to Romania, you've collaborated with Romanian dancers – and I'm going to mention here Marin Boeru – , and you even staged a performance after Eugen Ionescu. Was it enough, was it too little to get an idea about Romanians?'M.B.:'Romanians are just like any other people. They can be good and bad, they can be nice, talented or not talented. They have a Latin temperament. The fact that they're not Slav, although they're surrounded by so many Slav countries, is very strange. They're closer to the Latin spirit. Your language too is a Latin language. The Romanians have a disciplined and at the same time spontaneous temperament. It's a mixture of these two things. It's also a country rich in poets, rich in writers, rich in actors. When I got to Paris, the great actress Elvira Popesco was a myth of French theatre, which placed Romania very high. I've always had the feeling that it is a far away but at the same time very close country. It was far away when I was a child, when Europe was big, now it is small… And very close because whenever there was some contact with the Romanian poets, they would write in French. The French literature written by Romanian writers is just wonderful. Your country has always had a privileged relationship with France. Many Romanian geniuses expressed themselves in French. Many, very many Romanians have given me a lot. Especially one of my best friends, Mr. Eugen Ionesco. Germany filmed the ballet after The Chairs. Did you know that?'S.C.:'We even broadcast it on TV.'M.B.:'Really? That's wonderful. Everything Ionesco says in there is wonderful. He even says he prefers the ballet to the play, because there's too much beauty in the play… which is amazing! He's a man that gave me a lot through his humor and intelligence. A few years later I did the ballet with Ionesco in Hamburg…'S.C.:'With Marcia Haydees?'M.B.:'With Marcia Haydees and John Neumeier and the whole company. It was entitled Impressions from Hamburg. Ionesco collaborated with us, he even sang… You didn't know that… Hugues le Bars composed the music after a song sung by Eugen Ionesco himself… I remember Marin Boeru who was a wonderful dancer. We created a lot of ballets just for him. we did Wien, Wien nur du allein, Leicht, a very beautiful role, and many others. He danced Papagueno from Don Juan very well. He was a very good technician, because the Romanian school is very good, but also had an absolutely amazing temperament…. What a man!'S.C.:'It is impossible for Maurice Béjart to be included in any choreographic trend or tendency. But, if I may, could you please tell me where you would place yourself?'M.B.:'I'll never place myself on this or that side of dance… No. Never… Because as soon as I'm one place, I start "squirming" and want to be placed somewhere else. I'm now on this chair but want to be sitting on that one over there. So I don't think I'll ever place myself in any particular way…Let's say today I do a ballet on music by Beethoven, then by Pink Floyd, then on Indian music, on music by Bach, but I mix Bach with Argentinean tangos – as I did in Faustus… I don't think I can define myself and create at the same time. There may be a logic, but that is something for critics and the audience to see. Besides, all artists, of whatever kind, all creators look for something, produce a work that may not be the best, but then a similar one is better. Then you try to do the same and it is worse, and worse again, so you change direction.'S.C.:'For a dancer, to work with Béjart is not just yet another meeting, but I could say it is a vital one. In this respect, there are several great artists that have basically spent their lives next to you. Your creations are what enables us to celebrate these great personalities. What triggered this evocation in the performance that is about to arrive in Bucharest, Ballet for Life?'M.B.:'The performance we have in Bucharest is primarily an homage to Jorge Donn who was for a long time one of our great dancers. I discovered him in Argentina when he was not yet 17. He died in Lausanne. At the same time, the performance is dedicated to Freddy Mercury who died at the same age and in the same year as Jorge Donn. And it is dedicated to all the young people that have suffered from AIDS.'S.C.:'Why did you choose the "live" version of Freddy's music for this performance?'M.B.:'Mind you, only some of the versions are "live". Eight days ago, when I was in London, I talked about this with Freddy's musicians. Bryan May, the band's guitarist, said that I'd done very well to use the "live" version of the Bohemian Rhapsody, because it has some kind of madness while the record variant is too "well-behaved" and has less impact. Generally we started with studio versions and ended up using "live" versions.'S.C.:'What are Maurice Béjart's feelings when he sees young choreographers and dancers on a stage?'M.B.:'I've never wanted to be part of any jury. I don't want to judge anybody. All my life I've declined all the invitations to judge from all over the world.'S.C.:'What do you prefer, a rehearsal or a theatre hall?'M.B.:'I'm much happier during the rehearsals than the performance proper… During rehearsals you can still do something, whereas when it's ready there's nothing you can do, you just watch… And when I watch a ballet, I can only see its flaws. Only when I'm in love with the dancers can I forget about the flaws of my work… Which happens a lot.'S.C.:'At the end of our interview, Mr. Béjart, could you please tell me if you've discovered the secret of dance?'M.B.:'The secret of dance… belongs to everybody. To every human being… You have your own secret, so does the gentleman behind the camera or so do I … I think each of us knows the secret of dance… There is no unique secret of it… There are several secrets of dance…'S.C.:'Thank you.'

by Silvia Ciurescu