Brotherly love, jealousy and death: Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Kyôdaï

May 14, 2020

David Mead

Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges’ was noted for his brevity. His short stories were never more than ten pages long, with L’intruse (The Intruder), based on a true story from the Argentine pampas of the 1890s, and the inspiration for choreographer Gil Roman’s Kyôdaï coming in at jut six. But what a lot he gets through in a grim tale of fraternal jealousy, prostitution, and violence that tells of two brothers who fall in love with the same woman, share her, and sell her to a brothel. It ends with her murder and the brothers’ reconciliation.

Roman says he cannot explain how the story developed into a Japanese tale. Maybe, he thinks, it’s a consequence of his numerous tours to Japan, his readings and also his dancers. Actually, as with most of Borges’ stories, it doesn’t really matter where it is set given that the characters are more archetypal than individual; certainly universal rather than Latino.

Kyôdaï does tell the story, but in a very impressionistic and stylised way. Borges had a habit of including himself as narrator in his stories and the opening scene shows what I presume is him (identified as ‘Lui’ in the credits). Bare-chested and in white trousers surrounded by blackness save for a large image of a woman, he seems to be wrestling with something in his mind. Satie’s Gymnopédies emphasises the sense of a dream or at least that we are entering his imagination. Gabriel Arenas Ruiz’s dance is sharp, often angular, and starkly beautiful.

When we get to the meat of the tale, it’s quickly apparent that this is no ordinary love triangle. Roman drops plenty of hints that the brothers (Keisuke Nasuno and Masayoshi Onuki) are much closer to each other than to the female interloper (Lisa Cano) of the title. Indeed, when we first see them, they are sharing a bed. Yet, while the desire of the two men is plainly stronger towards each other than it is towards her, like Borges, Roman never portrays any sexual situation involving them. The closest we get is a very obvious and prolonged holding of hands towards the end.

The brothers dance with her separately in two light and often playful duets that have just a hint of sexual desire about them. But soon their joint use of her gives rise to increasing emotional tensions. When they try to share her, it’s not long before relationships start to fracture and jealousy starts to fester. As one pushes the other out and vice-versa, looks on faces speak volumes. The situation is neatly encapsulated in the soundtrack, Mizora Hibari singing Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en rose’ in Japanese with added screeches like a severely scratched vinyl might make.

The woman ultimately becomes a vehicle to reinforce the brothers’ physical and emotional connection with each other. When they come together and turn on her, things get violent. The way the brothers go in and out of unison as they circle her, manhandle her and generally rough her up reminded me greatly of Christopher Bruce’s Swansong. For chair read bed. For symbolism, the brothers in black, she in white works a treat.

Missing from Kyôdaï is the brothers’ prostituting of the woman and still sneaking off to see her in secret. But with the triangle unbearable, the only and final solution becomes clear, and she is violently murdered with their bare hands. The film here works brilliantly, getting in really close and allow us to see and experience in way we never could in the theatre.

Kyôdaï has now finished streaming. Next up from Béjart Ballet Lausanne is Arantxa Aguirre’s documentary of the company’s 2011 tour to China, available at from May 21-24, 2020.