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When I walk through town the day after the performance, outlining some of the movements that I saw the day before, my head bobbing to the music that keeps playing in my head … (… well, then the post gets very long? sorry!). I saw the matinee and the evening performances of Bejart’s 9th Symphony based on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Brussels on Saturday, delivered by Bejart Ballet Lausanne and The Tokyo Ballet, with an orchestra and choir from Antwerp, 4 soloist singers and a number of (non-professional local?) dancers.

Following three years of research and preparation, performed in Tokyo in 2014 and in other locations since, it was initially scheduled to be shown in Brussels last spring - back in the city where the piece was premiered in 1964 - and then pushed back to the end of last week. As on the DVD from one of the performances in Tokyo in 2014, The Tokyo Ballet performed the 1st movement and Bejart Ballet Lausanne the 2nd and 3rd movements, before they came together for the 4th movement, joined by the additional dancers for the corps.

The programme book states that Bejart described the four parts as earth/ struggle to reach an ideal, fire/ joy of dance, water/ love and liberty/ air. The colour of the costumes (shades of brown, bright red, white, shades of warm yellow) and the choreography follow along these lines.

In the first movement, dancers yearn – they raise a leg, stretch out an arm. They struggle – they make a fist, they lie in a foetus-like position on the floor, men carry women who seem to be devoid of life. Repeatedly double tours for the men into plie in second, clenching fists. A high lift shows a woman, clenching fists. Individuals break out from their group and yet go back into their group, or are held back in the first place.

The atmosphere changes completely in the second movement, to boundless joy. A virtuoso male solo is followed by a female solo which replicates the man’s movements. They take it in turns to dance, looking at each other smilingly. I was in awe at Masayoshi Onuki on Saturday evening, who was able to jump up unbelievably high into the splits (sissones?) from a squatting position, all while smiling at his partner. In the matinee, I much enjoyed Lawrence Rigg’s dancing as the male lead, his winning smile, open eyes, sunny outlook. There was a moment in the matinee performance when I was so much fascinated by Kathleen Thielhelm as female lead that I needed the evening performance with Kateryna Shalkina to take in what else was going on. The other dancers hold hands up high while they dance in circles, they hop on one leg, on one occasion even with a movement of their arms as if skipping. The high lift from the first movement reappears, this time with the woman stretching out her fingers rather than making fists. Fists do appear however are then changed to fingers stretched out wide, illustrating the move from struggle to joy.

Change of emotions again with the third movement. Zubin Metha described the music as “the love song of all times” (see below link on Youtube). The choreography is tender, intimate, calm. The male lead for this part slowly walks forward with developes and lies down on the floor. The female lead has a very similar solo, walking towards the man. They dance a tender PDD side by side, flexing and pointing their feet, turning their heads to both sides and towards each other in unison, emphasising their common understanding. They dance one behind the other, providing emotional proximity and intimacy. Elisabet Ros and Julien Favreau on Saturday evening displayed such dreamlike fluidity and understanding, they looked so much in tune with each other, as if the two were just one. Two other couples and then three more couples joined the stage, and the light that was a single spot at the start grew wider and wider.

The fourth movement starts with a male soloist (Connor Barlow from BBL in both the matinee and the evening performances on Saturday) who is then joined one by one by the male leads from the first three segments, each coming on stage – still wearing the colour from their own movement - with a trademark movement (in the evening, Dan Tsukamoto for the first movement, Masayoshi Onuki with a wonderful grand jete that seemed suspended in air, Julien Favreau with a develope), and then one by one synchronising their movements until they dance as quartet. This is also when the clothing for all subsequent dancers changes to yellow. Other soloists join and are followed by the corps, dancing solos, in groups, in circles, in lines. They hold hands, walking forward to the front of the stage to the words of “all men become brothers”. At the close of the music, they run in several concentric circles, holding hands, with a female soloist in the centre, her arms stretched out high, endlessly, joyful, free, as brothers and sisters.

“All men become brothers”, a timeless and universal message. The fitting floor design was reminiscent of celestial arrangements, showing symmetrical lines and circles of different diameters – such as planets as part of the universe.

BBL on their Facebook page say the four performances between Friday and Sunday were seen by 25,000 spectators. While there were shouts of bravo after the second and third movements in the matinee, the audience on Saturday evening kept it all to the end of the performance. It was thunderous.

Kudos to all involved for their commitment and stamina for the four performances in the space of 48 hours. The cast sheets for the two performances on Saturday showed the same names for the dancers from The Tokyo Ballet; equally most dancers with BBL were on stage both times, and often in the same roles. The same four soloist singers, the same orchestra, the same two percussionists.

There are lots and lots of photos and videos from the performances on Instagram, in particular of the fourth movement (try hashtags such as bejartballet, bejartballetlausanne and tokyoballet, and the event location Forest National - Vorst Nationaal).

An exhibition at the Musee Bejart Huis in Brussels about Bejart’s 9th Symphony runs until mid-February. It shows press reviews of the premiere in Brussels in 1964 and of subsequent performances in Moscow, Italy and Paris as well as photographs and videos of rehearsals over the years. The DVD of one of the Tokyo performances in 2014 runs on a loop. There will be a series of exhibitions in 2017 in memory of Maurice Bejart.

The documentary “Dancing Beethoven” by Arantxa Aguirre about the preparation of the 2014 performances in Tokyo will be shown in cinemas in Switzerland from Feb 2017 (other countries?). Short extracts of the documentary have been published by BBL on Youtube, here the link to the first part




edited for typo

Edited by Duck
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