An extraordinary career’s highlights all in one evening

The Bejart Ballet of Lausanne, the legendary Maurice Bejart’s current dance troupe, will be in Athens this week for two performances at the Pallas Theater on Wednesday and Thursday. At the time of writing, it remained unclear whether Bejart, who has suffered health problems recently, would be able to attend the performances and offer his admirers the opportunity to applaud the dancer, choreographer and man of wisdom for his lifetime’s achievements over the past 50 years. Bejart, now 80, ranks as one of the most significant artists of our time. He revolutionalized dance and managed to draw bigger audiences while maintaining the art form’s spiritual dimension. For the upcoming Athens performances – organized by the non-profit organization ELEPAP, the Hellenic Society for Disabled Children – Bejart, who has established an affinity with this country over the years, will present his most recent production, «L’Amour, la Danse,» which culls leading choreographies from his career. Both his life’s work and personality run parallel with the history of dance. Twenty-five years after forming his Ballet of the 20th Century in 1960, Bejart relocated to Lausanne where he has since lived and worked. His artistic world holds places for the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Charles Baudelaire and Gustav Mahler and his groundbreaking ballets have allowed for the co-existence of incongruent components, such as jazz elements with traditional African rituals, or the techniques of Martha Graham with the power of expressionist dance. Bejart, like all major artists, is a man of contradictions. On many occasions, the daring nature of his work has proven to be a challenge. Most critics tend to agree that Bejart produced his greatest ballets in the 50s and 70s, when it is generally agreed that the artist took classical dance to wider audiences. «I wanted to change both the genre and the audiences. I would rent out 5,000-capacity stadiums for a month and offer cheap tickets. I managed to have dance accepted at the Avignon Festival, at open-air theaters and public grounds. In my opinion, dance should not be elitist. It is a global language, an international tongue that brings people closer. In traditional dancing all over the world, the first thing dancers do is offer their hands,» Bejart had remarked in a former interview. His work was deeply influenced by the Far East, both in terms of technique and school of thought. His father, a philosopher, spoke and wrote Chinese. Bejart himself studied Zen under the tutelage of Deshimaru, and, following a series of visits to Iran, was deeply influenced by a Kurdish Sufi and embraced Islam. «Through dance, I try to offer a feeling of tranquillity and unity to the individual of the Western world, who is so egocentric, fragmented and divided,» Bejart has said. Applying Eastern philosophy to his work, he sought to change how audiences perceived dance, aiming for a ritualistic approach. «Everything is sacred, from eating and sleeping to making love and dancing. If God was not omnipresent in our lives, there would not have been a reason to name him. God is not a bearded old man who governs the world from afar. He is among us, he lies within everyone of us. Which is why fanaticism, intolerance, and social segregation are all insults to divinity. Divinity is unity,» Bejart has stated. Over the years, Bejart has presented scores of magical productions in Greece, including «Romeo and Juliet» and «The Magic Flute.» Bejart’s dance company last performed here in 2002 at the Herod Atticus Theater, staging a production based on music by the Greek composers Mikis Theodorakis and the late Manos Hadjidakis, both old friends. «I met Manos Hadjidakis many years ago and our friendship was a truly unique experience. And as for Mikis Theodorakis, my projects set to his music have traveled the world with great success everywhere,» noted Bejart in an interview published by Kathimerini’s K supplement in the summer of 2002. «Dance is like breathing. When a young child manages to stand for the first time it will dance. Quite often, our conditioning forbids us to dance because it is not considered correct or the moment may be deemed inappropriate,» says Bejart. «But humans are made to dance. It’s a part of their nature.»