BBL- Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - photo Kiyonori Hasegawa

BBL- Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – photo Kiyonori Hasegawa

When world famous choreographer Maurice Béjart passed away in 2007, few believed that his ballet company would survive. Instead, by combining the Béjart heritage with a taste for the daring, director Gil Roman perpetrates the success of Béjart Ballet Lausanne .

Fifty years after its premiere, Maurice Béjart’s legendary choreography of Beethoven’s Ninth has been revived for a major tour which began in Tokyo in December 2014 and will include several cities.  In Lausanne, together with the Tokyo Ballet, the Lausanne Sinfonietta and singers from the Lausanne Opera Chorus, more than 250 participants fill Malley Ice Rink in a spectacular reinterpretation of the major work

Article published in English and Japanese by Swissinfo on 15 June 2015
Link in English

Not for the happy few

This is not the first time the company has appeared in an extraordinary venue. Béjart, in an attempt to break the elite circles of dance, favoured sports arenas and circus settings for his grander productions, which he always alternated with his more intimate shows.

“He did not want his ballets to be for the happy few,” says Jean-Pierre Pastori, dance critic and president of the Maurice Béjart foundation.

“We must remember that he was a true revolutionary,” he continues, since Béjart was one of the first non-narrative choreographers: “He would sketch situations instead of telling a story.”

He also shocked audiences by using dissonant contemporary music by Boulez, Pierre Henry, Stockhausen and Xenakis and by promoting male dancers to prime roles that were erotically charged.

But the public came around to his fiery style and before long his company was performing around the planet. Although Switzerland has been its base for almost 30 years, the company spends up to 80% of its time travelling the world.

Béjart’s assistant director from 1993, Gil Roman has been at the helm of the company since 2007. To explain the BBL’s enduring success despite the loss of its founder, Pastori answers that being a dancer himself, Roman knows how to bring a choreography alive through the dancers. “He succeeds in giving Béjart’s work new life.”

Gil Roman

Gil Roman 2015, photo Amélie Blanc

Gil Roman 2015, photo Amélie Blanc

Gil Roman has performed in Béjart’s most renowned ballets since joining the company 30 years ago, became his deputy director in 1993 and was appointed to take over as Artistic director when Béjart passed away in 2007. Roman says that he was born to dance and could never have done anything else. His leadership qualities at the head of BBL are characterized by artistic generosity and an ability to adapt, including to culturally different audiences. His choreographies are instilled with powerful drama.

Roman’s merit and accomplishments have recently been crowned by the Мaya Plisetskaya Award 2015, the French National Order of Merit and the 2014 prestige prize of the Vaud foundation for culture.

Adding new works to the repertoire

Roman became a choreographer under Béjart’s wing, but never attempted to imitate the master. His ten or so productions have brought new vigour to the company, as have those by other invited choreographers.

Recently premiered in Lausanne, Tombées de la Dernière Pluie is a typical Roman production that uses dance to communicate strong images and powerful emotions.

Asked what changes he has made to the company since he became artistic director in 2007, Roman unabashedly admits that women have regained prominence.

In a recent duo on the stage of the Lausanne Opera, he let his stage companion, Elisabet Ros, unfold her long limbs to the tune of Spanish traditional music. The choreography was by Béjart, but the sensuous thrill was all Roman.

“On stage, there is no way of pretending, it’s like stepping into a bath. What I am looking for is that moment of complete theatricality where reason defers to emotion.”

“I want above all something to happen, that a light shines through.”

He searches for dancers with an engaging ingenuity to allow a youthful spontaneity to be present regardless of age. 55 years old, and despite intensive smoking, Roman remains remarkably boyish. “I have challenged my body all my life,” he says of his daily training.

"Tombées de la dernière pluie" Photo: Gregory Batardon / BBL

“Tombées de la dernière pluie” Photo: Gregory Batardon / BBL

Roman’s most recent production is also innovative in its use of film. He invited Swiss film director Pierre-Yves Borgeaud to help him produce visual sequences that are woven into the story to give it theatricality and pace.

“I wanted the images to fold organically into the choreography,” he explained.

“I don’t attempt to replicate the choreographies, but to revitalise them with the energy and personality of the new dancers,” says Roman.

Roman joined Béjart’s company when he was only 19 years old and with his fluid body and emotional electricity, he became the inspiration to many of Béjart’s choreographies.

Managing success

Close to 100 people depend on the ballet company – with an additional 50 at Rudra Béjart School – and despite the continued success, Roman admits that keeping them financially sound is a constant struggle. The decline of the euro precisely at a time when BBL had numerous European engagements did not help.

But tours are where things happen, says Roman, and despite the complexity of moving with more than 60 people and two articulated lorries, he believes it’s important to continue satisfying audiences worldwide. “We are one of the few remaining companies that offer large-scale productions and who travel so extensively,” he observes.

Japan remains BBL’s most frequent destination ever since Béjart fell in love with the country 40 years ago. His Beethoven’s Ninth was revived in December 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of Tokyo Ballet in Japan where BBL has enjoyed a cult following for several decades. The piece, also conceived 50 years ago as an ode to universal brotherhood, established the hallmark Béjart style. To many, it has lost nothing of its original appeal, particularly when performed in an extraordinary venue, as it will be in Lausanne.

Asked when he rests, Roman answers, “Only when I have an idea for another choreography.”

Béjart Ballet

Béjart Ballet Lausanne was created in 1987 when the controversial, but popular, Maurice Béjart was lured away from Brussels following a well-publicised rift with the Théâtre de la Monnaie, where his Ballet of the Twentieth Century had been created in 1960. His Mudra ballet school also followed and changed its name to Rudra. Béjart alternated intimate and grand scale choreographies and made his name by transforming classical dance into modern dance, but with dancers who were classically trained. His legendary choreographies include Rite of Spring, Bolero, The Firebird and Beethoven’s Ninth.
In recognition of its role as cultural ambassador, Lausanne renewed its five-year contract with BBL in 2014.

Before the end of the year, BBL will travel to Monte Carlo, Germany, Russia and France. In 2016 it will perform in Belgium and throughout Brazil in July and has plans for the Middle East and Greece. Japan remains BBL’s most frequent destination ever since Béjart fell in love with the country 40 years ago.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, trained as a journalist, became an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London before moving to Switzerland, where she now covers the art beat and presides several associations.

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