Switzerland has more ballet than its cheese has holes
THIS APPEARED IN THE 2/22/88 WORLD EDITION THE land of cuckoo clocks, Gruy`ere cheese, and William Tell is now earning itself a new reputation - that of a center for dance.Skip to next paragraph
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Switzerland, half the size of Ireland with a population of 6 million, now boasts four full-size dance companies plus an annual dance competition - the Prix de Lausanne - that each January attracts young dancers from around the world. (This year's winner came from South Africa: Ann Wixley who, with predatory poses, dramatically performed a piece called ``Soul of Africa.'')
The newest jewel in the Swiss dance diadem is Maurice Bejart's ``Ballet of the 20th Century,'' which recently transferred its headquarters from Belgium to Lausanne. For 28 years, the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels had been home to the Bejart Company and had seen it develop into one of the world's most admired dance companies. But last season, the funding for ballet productions was so drastically cut that Bejart accepted an invitation from Switzerland to resettle his troupe there as the resident company of the Theatre de Beaulieu.
Maurice Bejart, one of the major choreographers of our time, delights in producing full-blown theatrical productions. His company of 50 dancers just completed a successful season in Paris where it performed the epic ballet, ``Kabuki: 47 Samauri,'' which is based on Bejart's feel for the traditions of Japanese Kabuki theater.
Relating the true story of the 47 ronin (samurai) who in 1702 avenged the assassination of their master, Bejart fills his spectacle with far-eastern atmosphere, emphasizing the ancient rituals with careful, deliberate movements. The ballet was created for Japan's Tokyo Ballet Company in 1986 before becoming part of the repertoire of the ``Ballet of the 20th Century.''
But not everything Bejart does wins immediate praise, as he found in California last year. His ``Malraux, or the Metamorphosis of the Gods'' deals with the life of French writer and statesman Andre Malraux, who served as Charles de Gaulle's minister of information and later as minister of culture. Critics in Los Angeles, bored with the long political speeches (in French) that are woven into the show, complained, ``It's not dance.'' Yet the ballet was acclaimed in Europe for its expansive portrayal of the French statesman and Bejart's clever treatment of five aspects of his character - hero, writer, adventurer, eccentric, and ``dyable,'' Malraux's own word for himself refering to his habit of doodling.
Ballet Company of the Grand Theatre de Gen`eve
Further along Lake Geneva, in the city where the League of Nations was founded, is the Ballet Company of the Grand Theatre de Gen`eve, which has had a long association with the United States through the work of George Balanchine, the legendary choreographer and founder of the New York City Ballet. Under his watchful eye, the company preserved and performed his flowing style for 10 years from 1969, first under the direction of Alfonso Cata, then Patraicia Neary.
Today, it offers a varied program often with a South American flavor. Its director since 1980 has been Argentine choreographer Oscar Araiz. The present season opened with a double bill of Bartok's ``The Miraculous Mandarin'' and ``Pantheon,'' and on March 13, Araiz will present his new ballet, ``Child Alice,'' to music by David Del Tredici. Taking his inspiration from the classic fairy tale of ``Alice in Wonderland,'' Araiz uses three ballerinas to depict the complex character of Alice.
In his ballet ``Misia,'' premi`ered in Geneva and taken in September to the Pompeii festival in Italy, Araiz follows the life of the influential and fascinating Misia Sert, who became the muse of many famous artists from the end of the last century to the last world war. Araiz introduces, either as dancers or in his choice of music, many of the people she knew - such as Debussy, Ravel, Diaghilev, Nijisky, Isadora Duncan, and Coco Chanel.