Promise unfulfilled: Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Maurice Béjart’s The Magic Flute

Streamed on-line
April 16, 2020

Maggie Foyer

Maurice Béjart stated that Mozart’s The Magic Flute was perfect in every detail leaving him no wish to make the slightest alteration, he simply listened with reverence to the score and translated it into dance. Sadly, much was lost in translation. The story of the trials of love, lively comedy and magic would seem ideally suited to a dance interpretation but while the comic elements, notably Masayoshi Onuki as Papageno, fared well, emotional nuance and depth were less evident.

Mozart’s Magic Flute alludes to masonic rites and symbols and Béjart interprets these with a great deal of gesture and strong poses in choreography of modernist simplicity that does little to engage the audience. The work created in 1981, was filmed in 2017. Despite some excellent performances, the result is strangely sterile, seldom capturing the big picture and the sweep of the complex story and concentrating on solo dancers at the expense of the relationships.

Bejart Ballet Lausanne in The Magic FlutePhoto Anne Bichsel
Bejart Ballet Lausanne in The Magic Flute
Photo Anne Bichsel

Mattiu Galiotto, as The Speaker, a talented actor/dancer leads the action. In a dynamic performance, he accurately captures the balance between narrator and protagonist. Gabriel Arenas Ruiz as Tamino and Kateryna Shalkina as Pamina, both superb dancers, were handicapped by interpretations that seldom evolved from stereotypes of noble prince and beautiful princess. In neither their solos nor duets were there the moments of high passion needed to give the production its heart. Shalkina gets her best opportunity at the end of Act One where she dances with the imposing Julien Favreau as Sarastro, Priest of the Sun. Her solo and their duet, formal but tinged with genuine feelings, brought the moment to life.

As Mozart moves into the realm of comic opera mingling folk melodies and spoken word for the character of Papageno, so Béjart gives Onuki lively choreography of ballet virtuosity. With brilliant turns, sparkling beats and a well-developed sense of comedy, Onuki gave a memorable performance. Elisabet Ros, the sinister Queen of the Night, with legs as high as the singer’s high Fs, was also memorable character. A powerful presence with expressive shoulders and formidable technique, she made an effective counterfoil to the righteousness of Sarastro’s court. Michelangelo Chelucci, dancing Monastatos, made good mileage from this minor role; a disturbing character in a particularly unsettling two-faced headdress.

Bejart Ballet Lausanne in The Magic FlutePhoto Gregory Batardon
Bejart Ballet Lausanne in The Magic Flute
Photo Gregory Batardon

The snake of the opening scene is a clever idea, borrowed from the Chinese dragon dance with an elaborate head and a team of dancers forming the body. The trios, the three female servants of the Queen, the three children (in this production three clowns) provided good dance roles for the company. There is enough promise in this production to wish that Béjart had adapted this great work to suit his own, not inconsiderable, talents. As it stands it’s disappointing; something of a ‘paint by numbers’ with Béjart colouring in the original form rather than using his own palette of unique tones and hues.