Maurice Bejart: to travel light

Gil Roman is a successor to the legendary choreographer Maurice Bejart who took the lead of the master’s troupe Bejart Ballet Lausanne after his death. A forty-year-old graceful man, he still continues to dance and regards it as his lifework to maintain the Theatre of Modern Dance created by his teacher. Some time ago Jorge Donn handed over his best number – Mahler’s Adagietto to Gil Roman. It is this miniature and the piercing performance Brel and Barbara that the audience in Moscow remembers him in. Once on the stage of the Kremlin Palace the troupe hand in hand approached the front of the stage in a single rank to the finale of Queen’s Show Must Go On. Bejart walked in the middle. Today Gil Roman takes curtain calls in the middle of the rank of the dancers. It is his family, his actors, his fate now.

- What do you think: why Bejart, a world famous French choreographer did not have his own theatre in France? Since we know that The 20th Century Ballet was housed in Brussels and the Bejart Ballet Lausanne troupe – in Lausanne.

— Despite the fact that Bejart was formed in France and created three troupes he could never find money for his undertakings. He understood that he will never achieve what he strives for at home. It deals with the French mentality. Ironic as it may seem, his new dance had difficulty groping its way. Modern choreographers’ voices sounded defiant. Now the situation has changed. Bejart’s choreography was not only a search for new movements but a reflection of thoughts, ideas, philosophy. His voice was too different from the conventional opinion. Such people are not favoured in France: they are too difficult to deal with. The public adores you, the critics and officials don’t. Maurice preferred spending his energy on creative work instead of struggling against bureaucratic systems. In France everything concerning dance is strictly regulated and centralized. A free-thinking artist does not fit into this framework. Here’s how it turns out that it’s easier to work where you are foreign. 

- You worked together for many years. What was his understanding of the dance?

- The pure form was not the absolute for him as it is for most choreographers. He filled the dance with a metaphysical, almost religious sense. He never created movement only. At that the colossal difference between Maurice and nearly all choreographers of the world lies in the following: not a slave to the superior beauty and cold aestheticism, he made the dance part of life. He operated with ideas. All ballets tell stories about relationship between people - men and women. The subjects of all ballets are fascinating love stories. Maurice made a step forward – he added passion, thirst for knowledge, protest to ballet. He regarded life as an optimist. He certainly admired beauty but from his point of view it had a different perspective, emotionality and certain features of a riot.

- Bejart was deeply interested in the religion of ancient Greece, India, African tribes, Russian orthodoxy. What was his relationship with religion? Why did he convert to Islam at a mature age?

- Maurice was a Catholic, like me, meaning that he was formed in the frame of Catholic worldview. But he really had a spiritual mentor, a Sufi Ostad Elai. Maurice was imbued by the religion of those who he loved and who were close to him. He was never a fanatic follower of the cult. He reflected religious trends as the mirror of water reflects the green of leaves or the colour of chestnuts. He died as a Muslim by religion but did not want any religious ceremonies. That’s why we carried out the civil funeral rites at the theatre. There was a sound of music accompanying Bejart’s artistic way, Franзois Weyergans, a French writer, gave a speech, costumes from our performances were exhibited in the foyer. Maurice left us, but when we dance we feel that he’s here, with us. When I work I sense his presence and often talk to him deep in my thoughts. At each our performance we feel his presence. I consider it important to keep his spirit in the troupe, his style, his method. But Maurice was against any conservatism, he always worked ahead of time and style. That’s why I think his ballets should change in time, adapt to a new life. No matter how we perfect machinery, light and sew beautiful costumes, choreography remains the main and strong feature of his performances, it is timeless. This choreography is destined to a long life, it is more relevant than classics in my opinion. It is a surefire way. Maurice’s ballets are pregnant with a long life. His recipe is a rigid structure and a bit of love.

- How did Bejart work? Was it dictatorship or co-authorship with the troupe?

- When he was young he was stronger and more aggressive. He grew gentler as the years went by. But he always achieved what he wanted. Everything depended on people. He always looked for space for a dancer so that they could straighten up to the hilt. Maurice was not a totalitarian person. He perfectly understood psychology of the young who were first ten then twenty and finally forty and more years younger than him. He was close to all generations of his artists. He loved the young, understood them and felt everything. I keep in my memory his image as a kind touching man.

- You said you have no ambitions to become a choreographer. For the first time I have met a person in charge of a theatre who does not want to stage. Will you probably invite some of the modern choreographers to work with the troupe?

- I have already invited three young choreographers to cooperate with us. They are all very different but we are not afraid of experiments. The main thing is to create a poetical world. The category of freedom is very important for me. I try to stage something myself but gradually. No matter what journalists say, I will stand upon the right of our troupe for a free choice of a repertoire. Unfortunately, all modern expert ballet masters are busy. I really love Jiri Kylian, Mats Ek and hope that they will find time for our company as well.

- Bejart confessed that he preferred to live in empty studio apartments not far from a rehearsal hall, did not like to surround himself with things, gave everything, did not keep anything. His mother perished when he was a child, and his father died in a road accident when Bejart had just started his career as a choreographer. He did not have a family but always had his theatre. Do you think he was happy?

- Sometimes. It’s a matter of a minute – happiness and unhappiness. Maurice was happy when he worked. He did not understand the essence of vacations and holidays very much. He really did not need anything. His apartment was tiny: a small staircase leading up and some space for a mattress on the floor. He did not buy anything but tried to give away his belongings. He liked to live a life not depending on things, on property, on all those burdening circumstances. He felt good as he was. He taught me to travel light – “Voyage leger”, having no baggage, no hand-luggage, nothing. You travel the world and life independent and free. This view is applicable to creative work as well: it is when you work not for the sake of the future and without looking back at the past, but here and now. There is no “tomorrow” and “yesterday” for a dancer, there is only “now” for them. I know what I’m talking about – I've been dancing all my life.

 By Natalia Kolesova

 

 

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