Tag Archives: all you can eat naan

Maurice Béjart’s Bhakti

31 Aug

In my effort to educate myself more about ballet history, here’s one that I’ve been obsessed with for about half a year now…Maurice Béjart’s Bhakti, inspired by the Hindu gods.  I used to think it was kind of strange when people would get obsessed with other cultures and I used to associate it with a dissatisfaction with oneself, but I realized I needed to tone down the judgmental behavior and make a distinction between whackadoodles that wish they were someone they aren’t versus those that simply have a genuine curiosity for learning about something different or an innate ability to identify with something outside the world they grew up in.  After all, I’ve developed a completely harmless interest in India, which began after a tradition I began while studying in Tokyo.  For whatever reason, there’s quite a few Indian restaurants there and after we realized we could get all you can eat naan during the lunch special, I coined a legendary tradition we called “Indian Friday,” where you eat Indian food on Friday.  No special reason…just Friday always put us in a good mood and my friends and I were always done with class around lunch.  So we would hop around to the different Indian restaurants, where the owners and waiters/waitresses were always extremely friendly and I’d kick it back with a mango lassi.  Since then, I’ve even tried to dabble in Indian cooking, but so far all I’ve done is buy a horde of spices I haven’t used, and copied recipes into a notebook while sitting in Barnes and Noble.  One of the naan recipes called for turning on the oven as hot as it will go, which I pictured ending in undesired pyrotechnics.  Not to mention Indian cooking requires some massive skills and knowledge like toasting seeds and “cooking the saffron until it gently unfurls and emits a pungent fragrance.”  The point is, in my perfectly healthy quest to learn more about India, I happened upon Béjart’s Bhakti on the tube.  And the other point is, I’m kind of a fraud, because during my studies in Japan I also befriended an Aussie, and now secretly wish I was Australian.  But you didn’t hear that from me!

Anyway, “Bhak on topic” I absolutely love this ballet.  Béjart’s creativity, vivid coloring and understanding of geometric shapes really captured the opulence and patterning I see in Hindu art.  Obviously, there’s been some controversey that it’s not an authentic portrayal of the Hindu gods or Indian aesthetics, but people who say that don’t get art.  No Indian ballet is ever going to be authentic (La Bayadère?  As if!), so it’s all about his interpretation of an aesthetic and how it inspired him.  I wouldn’t even call Bhakti a fusion piece.  Perhaps the music makes people expect something authentic, but people who view art and especially dance, with a stranglehold on too many expectations are narrow-minded and not very much fun to be around.  So don’t poo on the party, yeah?

To the best of my knowledge (which isn’t saying much), the ballet is never performed in its entirety these days, only the “Shiva pas de deux” is ever put on stage.  There are a few videos on the tube of Shiva, with the most well known contemporary dancers probably being Diana Vishneva  and Igor Kolb.  While I enjoyed Kolb, Vishneva didn’t really do it for me…it’s almost as if her technical prowess hindered her ability to present the dance in its truest form.  It was, quite frankly, too pretty.  Another reason why I didn’t completely jump on the bandwagon with Vishneva is because I had seen Maïna Gielgud, a dancer with the Béjart Ballet, perform the role of Shakti in what I think is the original film version from 1969.  I can’t seem to find any information on the history of Bhakti, and although The Ballet Goer’s Guide has Béjart works, it’s a negatory on this one.  Based on the film version it almost seems like it was intended for film, because of some of the editing that was done, as there are modern (well, modern for 1969) scenes randomly inserted, like escalators, malls, Paolo Bortoluzzi and Hitomi Asakawa…on a date…Hitomi eats some snow…Jorge Donn playing with a Siamese kitty…

Anyway, Gielgud was really invested in the dance, and she may not have Vishneva’s lines but there was a certain believability to her performance that made me prefer her.  Gielgud kind of alluded to how Béjart would even cast dancers with less concern for perfection when she wrote a tribute to him after he died in 2007:

As a dancer, I had the privilege of working with Béjart for four years between 1967 and 1971 — some would say the golden years. Certainly they were intensely creative, and it was at that time that the touring and performing in vast venues was at its peak. There was amazing male talent, from Paolo Bortoluzzi to Jorge Donn. Germinal Casado was still dancing, and my first year, a number of very ‘classical’ dancers were engaged, including Daniel Lommel, Angele Albrecht and myself. We were rather looked down upon by the oldies, as having a long way to go to ‘learn the style.’ Nevertheless this did not seem to stop Maurice from creating a number of roles on us, and we thrived on it.

That’s food for thought and there was something special indeed about Gielgud, and I’m not just talking about her freakishly flexible neck (there’s one part during her solo in Shiva where she slides down into an open split, cambrés backwards, and her chest stays forward but her neck is so arched that her entire face is looking behind her.  It kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies…actually, it REALLY gives me the heebie-jeebies.  But, I can deal.)  I really love her energy and the uninhibited manner in which she danced.  Her performance in the film makes you forget about technique.

Totally random, but another neat moment is in Rama, when Bortoluzzi supports Asakawa while she’s on pointe, turning her leg as she slowly rond de jambs into attitude devant.  It’s very mystical and ethereal, but not in a sylphish sort of way.

So here’s as much of the ballet as I could find…I think part of Krishna is missing, but it’s almost complete.  I really hope Béjart Ballet decides to restage the entire work with a corps and everything.  I’d be down with that.  Enjoy!  It’s trippy, but spiritual and awesome.  Shiva is the last movement, with Germinal Casado as the title role and Gielgud as Shakti, and is by far the highlight of the film.


Rama (with Paolo Bortoluzzi as Rama, Hitomi Asakawa as Sita)

Krishna (Jorge Donn as Krishna, Tania Bari as Radha, Siamese kitty as Cat)

Shiva (Germinal Casado as Shiva, Maïna Gielgud as Shakti)