The Paris Opera Ballet Performance of “Bolero” Thrust The New York Times Over The Edge.
It was very disturbing to read “Right Bank Meets West Side” July 13, by The New York Times critic, Alastair Macaulay, regarding the Paris Opera Ballet performance of Maurice Béjart’s great masterpiece “Bolero.”
The company performed at the David H. Koch Theater, part of the Lincoln Center Festival, from July 11 through July 22. Maurice Béjart was one of the most celebrated masters and revolutionary choreographers of the 20th century. He fashioned a new vocabulary and theatrical spectacle for ballet. He created great masterpieces and was not only adored and revered for his extraordinary talent and creativity in Europe, but throughout the world. I had the pleasure of having known him and consider some of his former dancers and collaborators close friends.
The music, written by the composer Joseph Maurice Ravel, born in the Basque town of Ciboure in France near to the border with Spain, was commissioned by the Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein. The orchestration of the musical notes moves from the opening – pianissimo rising rhythmically in a continuous sensual crescendo; and then voilà, the melody culminates in an ecstatic fortissimo explosion of sounds. Béjart’s choreography captures the sensuality and emotional fluidity of the composition so seamlessly. Hence, after viewing a performance of his ballet, the spectator is moved to visualize the movements of the dance when hearing the music being played as purely orchestral work.
“Bolero” is not just a powerful dance, but also very challenging technically. Dancers who had the honor of performing that brilliant piece, and as a former professional ballet dancer, we can affirm with certitude that “Bolero” requires a high level of technical training, precision, emotional command and control. Mr. Macaulay’s critique calls the choreography problematic and foolish and references the 1928 choreography of Bronislava Nijinska and of the adaptation of “Bolero” the 1934 quaint Hollywood production staring Carole Lombard. None of these productions provide adequate critical standards by which the skillfulness of Mr. Béjart’s special creation can benefit from a rigorous and fair aesthetic assessment. Mr. Macaulay’s rationalization is utterly outdated and irrelevant.
Ballet technique has evolved significantly since the middle part of the 20th century. Mr. Béjart was an essential creative force which fostered an expansion of possibilities of new movement structures to train dancers, transforming ballet into stunning ground-breaking visual spectacles. His creativity anticipated the future of dance. He was ahead of his time. The historical events used by Mr. Macaulay as examples for criticism of a modern creation are absurd and show a lack of basic awareness of ballet technique development. Quite frankly, a fair critique requires a certain level of historical knowledge and sophistication. Mr. Macaulay reveals that the choreography was irksome and responded to it with “giggles.” Every time I saw “Bolero” in great cities such as Paris, Rio de Janeiro and London, the audience went up on its feet and cheered passionately. I have yet to see a choreography that has such emotional and intoxicating effect on audiences of distinct cultural backgrounds. The United States, unfortunately, never had an opportunity of viewing the performances of Maurice Béjart’s company “Ballet du XXme Siècle.” I have been told by members of the dance world that our country was not ready for Béjart’s astonishing genius.
Mr. Macaulay’s critique exposes and perpetuates an early 20th century detrimental notion in our country, that if a performance is imbued with an aggressive passionate sexual overture it makes individuals like him uncomfortable. The critic describes “Bolero” as “ludicrous soft-porn, a mixture of group eroticism.” That’s when he couldn’t control the giggling. The bombastic, flamboyant and frenzy excitement of “Bolero” thrust Mr. Macaulay over the edge. This is 21st century New York City. Mr. Macaulay’s adherence to an incongruous morality unfortunately blinded him from finding magnitude, magic and pleasure in a masterpiece.
Chelsea Sculpture Park