Dancing to a Trench Coat

Volksoper: Béjart’s ‘ballet policier’ is an ironic glance at life’s beautiful surfaces

Le Concours, that concluded its 2011 run Jun. 4 at the Volksoper, is an amusing confection of a ballet put together by Maurice Béjart at the height of his fame in 1985. Béjart’s own Ballet of the 20th Century danced the premiere of Le Concurs in the Théatre du Châtelet, a temple of contemporary dance.

But Le Concours is no work of high art, but rather a simple theatrical murder mystery told in the language of dance. Cleverly Béjart sets his murder mystery at a dance competition, which easily explains the constant pirouettes and the lifts. Curiously in real life Béjart turned down every invitation to do dance jury duty, finding ballet competition barbaric. In line with the dance theme, music is a very arch pastiche of Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadère, Swan Lake and Coppelia bound by atmospheric orchestration from Hugues Le Bars.

At 58 years of age, irony is a more natural expression than passion. Béjart is one of the last of the great choreographers to feel that ballet and modern dance would become a mainstream art form, taking a place in the daily newspapers beside music, fashion, television and film. And so Le Concours was created: not as a masterwork or a deep expression on life but an ironic glance at life’s beautiful surfaces.]

Le Concours owes a deep debt to pop culture, with a protagonist drawn directly from Alain Delon’s incarnations of trench coated police inspectors and Peter’s Falk’s Columbo. Do not search for any more meaning in Le Concours than in a good detective drama: there are only moments.

As ballet contestant Ada and murder victim, Olga Esina is a revelation. Esina has comedic talents one would not expect after seeing her as various Giselles, Swans and La Bayadère. Perhaps our long armed sylph has wearied of perishing to heartbreak or schizophrenia every night in the grand ballets.

Given some passable dramaturgy and some delicate attention, Esina truly comes to life. Esina was particularly delightful as a lithesome showgirl to Igor Milos’s masterful magician.

Other noteworthy performances: Gregor Hatala certainly looks the part of a stocky cop but lacked intensity and focus the night I saw him.

Samuel Colombet as the French juror and chairman of the jury seemed drawn from life. He’s ready for cinema. Serbian dancer Gala Jovanovic nearly stole the show as the American jurist. Many of her excessive enthusiasms apply just as well to certain Austrian balletomanes. But Jovanovic did not need to work so hard on letting us know that she finds her character Kitsch and silly. She needed only be the character herself and let us find the humor ourselves.

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