A Greek tragedy brought beautifully to life: Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Histoire d’eux, plus Brel et Barbara

June 4, 2020

David Mead

He may have whittled things down to four characters and kept it short but Tony Fabre’s Histoire d’eux, inspired by the Greek myth of Dido and Aeneas has much to admire. It’s a beautifully played out picture of the couple. a couple in love. In just 18 minutes we see them brought together, fall in love, dance adoringly, then part with tragic consequences.

The sound of waves at the beginning, and that then overlay some of Purcell’s score, not only hint at Aeneas’ shipwreck but also presage the tragedy that awaits. As the lead couple, Julien Favreau and Elisabet Ros combine strength with sensitivity. Brought together by two messengers, Iker Murillo Badiola and Vitali Safronkine, at first stand and look. They are not so much cold as unsure.

Those messengers can be seen as fates, or perhaps as the witches who plot Dido’s downfall. Having introduced the couple and tempted them with each other’s bodies, they dance with an impish glee.

The pas de deux for Dido and Aeneas has a degree of formality. While very expressive, feelings remain bound. It’s slow and graceful, intimate, sensitive and incredibly well-mannered, yet also rather suggestive. Etched Dominique Roman’s gorgeous lighting against the surrounding blackness, you cannot take your eyes off them.

There is no hunt, and no Mercury impersonator to tell Aeneas that he must leave and sail for Italy. But leave he does, walking slowly, silently like a ghost as Dido dances to her death, the sound of waves returning as the music dies away.

Histoire d’eux was Fabre’s last work, not premiered until two months after his death in December 2013 following a severe illness. It is a fine memorial.

Brel et Barbara by Maurice BéjartPhoto Didier Philispart
Brel et Barbara by Maurice Béjart
Photo Didier Philispart

Fabre’s work is pared online with Brel et Barbara, Maurice Béjart’s tribute to two of the great voices of 20th-century French music. Between grainy black and white film of them, Béjart brings the couple to life in choreography set to their songs (the full work has 13 numbers, here it’s just a selection). Even the curtain call is interspersed with film of the real-life pair taking a bow.

The dance is expressive and the conviction in the songs does come through in the choreography, but while Gil Roman (who looks remarkably like Brel) and Elisabet Ros do their best, the work just didn’t click with me. For a start, the old film is much more powerful than the dance, where there are two issues. First is that my French is not up to understanding the lyrics, and I they are undoubtedly very important. However, an even bigger issue is Béjart actually depicting the couple (and against film of them at times) instead of focusing on the feelings of the songs, as he does in the altogether more appealing Piaf. Or maybe it’s just of those that needs watching a few times.

Showing alongside Brel et Barbara is The Choreographer – A portrait of Maurice Béjart, a documentary (with English subtitles) about the ballet’s creation, including interviews with Béjart, Gil and Ros, and archive film of Jacques Brel and Barbara.

Histoire d’eux, Brel et Barbara and The Choreographer – A portrait of Maurice Béjart are available at www.bejart.ch until June 7, 2020.