The Béjart Ballet in Lausanne, Switzerland announced the death of French choreographer Maurice Béjart following his recent hospitalization at a local hospital for heart and kidney treatment. Béjart leaves a legacy of more than 230 choreographies the latest of which Zarathoustra. Le chant de la danse aka Zarathustra. the song of the dance was dedicated to the famed Persian Prophet as well as to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s work. Born on January 1st 1927 in Marseille, France Béjart was to become one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century. He moved to Switzerland in the late 80’s and created the Béjart Ballet in Lausanne launching the career of future great dancers as Jorge Donn, Daniel Lommel, Gil Roman, Patrick Dupont, Paolo Bortoluzzi or Suzanne Farrell. He was also to greatly contribute to the Persian Ballet Repertoire in the late 60’s and 70’s performing at the famous Roudaki Hall in Tehran created under the supervision of the former Empress of Iran, Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi with whom he kept strong ties of friendship over the years. One of the highlights of his contributions to Iranian Ballet was the creation of two consecutive ballets during the Persepolis Celebrations of 1971. One based on the Golestan Sa’adi with Iranian musicians Nur Ali Brumand, Nourredin RAZAVI Sarvestan & Dariush TALA’I and another with the same musicians called Farah in tribute to the Shahbanou. The latter was once again used for Béjarts 1995 ballet Scherehazad. (See French review of Farah). Greatly influenced by his trip to Iran after which he converted to Islam after meeting a Sufi Kurdish musician which he admits had the greatest artistic and spiritual influence in his career. This probably explains some of Béjarts initial enthusiasm for the Islamic Revolution of 1979 despite his personal sympathies and friendship with the Iranian Royal Family and Empress Farah in particular. The excesses of the Islamic revolution and the shock of September 11th which has bad named Islam certainly shook the spiritual convictions of the famed ballet Maestro. This spiritual and philosophical quest led him to the creation of a new Ballet Zarathoustra. Le chant de la danse aka Zarathustra. the song of the dance which performed its premiere amidst standing ovation and cheers last year in Lausanne Switzerland and later on a triumphant European tour. The choreographer greatly contributed to his Art by offering visually spectacular performances and turning it into a popular entertainment that was often at Odds with contemporary critics of his time. A Solitary but sociable character, Béjart is said not to be afraid of death « because it is the only certainty in everyone’s life » he once confessed adding « I believe that death hits us all at the right time (…) maybe differently but certainly for the good reasons. »
All his 230 choreographies were based on his personal research and spiritual quest ( including religious since he converted to Islam in the early 70’s). Oriental and Asian philosophies, Cinema and Literature dominate his entire work. He expressed his obsessions about love, death, travels, solitude of mankind and the great myths of Western civilization and the universality of the human condition.
An ever perfectionist, he never admitted to an entirely satisfying performance. He nevertheless signed some undeniable ballets in his long career such as “Symphonie pour un homme seul” (1955), “Le Sacre du Printemps” (1959), “Boléro” (1961), “L’Oiseau de feu” (1970), “Notre Faust” (1975) or “Le Presbythère…!” (1997).Maurice Béjart received great distinctions such as “le Prix Allemand de la Danse” in 1994. He was knighted by the Empreror of Japan in 1986 and was an honorary citizen of Lausanne.
The World of Art and 20th Century Dance has certainly lost one of its greatest icons.