Maurice B'ejart plays with the shapes of ballet and comes up with a glitzy image

``Le concours,'' a spoofy mystery by Maurice B'ejart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century, a troupe from Belgium known for creating spectacles, starts with the murder of a ballerina. At the command of the inspector, performed with underworld grace by Marc Hwang, the suspects dance their shady tales. The best thing about this piece is the fun it makes of the ballet world. As the dancers get ready to compete, they tear through dressing-room solos where vanity and terror garble their technique hilariously. A woman with not one but two of the bulging satchels dancers burden themselves with whirls through a chain of beautifully teetering turns, arms flung wide, the bags seeming to drag her around the stage. A dandy smooths his hair before stunts, keeps his leg low in a pirouette as if trying not to mess

up the crease in his pants, and then twitches an ankle to display to better advantage his bright yellow sock before raising it in a high, slow kick. In its hammy way, the dancing is beautiful.

B'ejart's choreographic style is full of scooting hips, prances on point, swiveling knees, and feet that suddenly flex. This is funny in a send-up of ballet technique and a satire of a jazz, where dancers paw at their noses like spaniels while undulating in line. But without the structure of something to mock, the choreography is shaky.

As the pas de deux competition starts, a dancer asks what a pas de deux is. The judges provide technical descriptions, but then someone says, ``Le pas de deux, c'est l'amour.''

What follows is proof that le pas de deux had better be more than l'amour. When the heroine steps on the male dancer's stomach (leaning back on his hands, he has made himself into a platform for her) and then balances there on one leg, they look like a car with hood ornament rather than a monument to love. The duet is flat and unintentionally funny because the steps don't begin to support the supposed emotional content.

B'ejart's choreography plays with the shapes of ballet, remolding it in a glamorous image with little regard for its line and substance. ``Le Concours,'' with its changing scenes and glitzy, good-humored aura, is a perfect vehicle for this magpie approach. Its strength is its theatricality, and the dancers render his stylistic patois fluently, with chic and speed.

Through Dec. 1 at City Center in New York.

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