If there is one piece that has made Maurice Béjart famous, it has to be Bolero. This work, danced to music by Maurice Ravel, is especially known from the film Les uns et les autres (1981), but the choreography premièred twenty years earlier, in 1961. The premise of one woman surrounded by twenty dancers and another twenty men in the background was slightly adjusted years later, when star dancer Jorge Donn first danced it  in Brussels in 1979. After Ballet for Life, the Béjart Ballet dances this masterpiece alongside Light at Theatre Carré, Amsterdam.

Bolero © Francette Levieux
Bolero
© Francette Levieux

The brilliance of the Bolero lies in the structure of both the music and the choreography. Ravel’s music, written for dancer Ida Rubenstein, consists of two themes that are first played by a single flute, which is joined by an increasing number of instruments and, at the end, the entire orchestra. Similarly, the choreography begins with a single spotlight aimed at the arm of the principle, Elisabet Ros. The second time the theme sounds, there is a second spotlight on both of her arms. Next, the stage is entirely lit. Also the movement builds up: Ros begins by simply moving from one bare foot to another, continuing with more intense motion as the music becomes louder. Ros is surrounded by a large number of men who sit at the edges of the stage. At first they move along minimally, but one by one they join Ros’ tempting dance. There is constant, elastic motion; Ros’ arms are supple as wings and the men make sensual movements with their hips that would put Elvis to shame. The piece slowly builds up along a stretched crescendo to an inevitable climax and one cannot help but give in and go along with it. The drums, getting stronger and stronger, along with the Spanish melody will hypnotise even the spectator in the highest gallery seat. When the music suddenly stops, this unchains an immense applause from the audience that feels like a release.

Bolero © Ilia Chkolnik
Bolero
© Ilia Chkolnik

This is preceded by 85 minutes of Light. This work is a full-length ballet set in Venice and danced to glorious, through-and-through Baroque music by Antonio Vivaldi, that is revitalized by the company. With characters belonging to different eras and with rather vague identities, the story easily slips one’s mind. But that does not matter much because the dansante parts are a joy to watch. Especially memorable is the pas de deux by two men wearing pink leggings. They depict a two-part aria where at one moment they dance the aria’s call-and-response structure, and at the next they move in perfect harmony, just like the music does. Equally mesmerizing are the men representing a rainbow; their skirts in shades such as deep red and yellow ocre whirl beautifully as they graciously turn – who could have thought that men wearing skirts could be such a pretty view?

Béjart interestingly makes use of his dancers as props. While action takes place on the middle of the stage, one (or more) of the dancers is always standing in one of the corners. Take for example a dancer dressed as (probably) Vivaldi, sitting on an antique chair, holding his violin and staring at sheet music on his music-stand. It is his plain occupation that brings history to life.

Light © Jessica Hauf
Light
© Jessica Hauf

These two extraordinary works by Béjart, the second even more enchanting than the first, together guarantee a sublime night out. Light, with its delightful baroque music and colourful scenes, makes up for a perfect first part and stands strong on its own. Bolero only makes the evening better. See this, and you will understand why it is Béjart's masterpiece. All in all, these are two performances you do not want to miss.

*****