The Bejart Ballet Lausanne was in fine form at the National Theater Saturday afternoon, and the broad smiles on the dancers' faces were mirrored by those of the audience.
It seemed slightly cynical to wonder whether the dancers were smiling because the company was one more performance closer to wrapping up a six-week tour that began in Belgium in late January and then had them traipsing around Asia for three weeks.
My apprehension was due to the fact that, while I had enjoyed bits and pieces of Bejart's full-length Le Presbytere N'a Rien Perdu De Son Charme, Ni Le Jardin De Son Eclat (Ballet for Life for short) that the company performed on its first visit to Taipei three years ago, I had come away from the theater less than impressed.
But the three ballets -- Brel and Barbara, The Seven Greek Dances and Bolero -- performed over the weekend showed a more minimalist, more approachable and more enjoyable Bejart.
It was a program that stripped dance down to the basics -- simple costumes and props, the stage lit simply with infusions of color and choreography that was easily accessible.
The first ballet, the hour-long Brel and Barbara, was a nice collection of pas de deux, pas de trois, solos and ensembles set to music by Jacques Brel and the French singer Barbara. Even if you don't understand French -- or Flemish in one case -- the emotions of the words were clearly evoked by Bejart's choreography.
Elisabet Ros and Thierry Deballe were the featured principals and both were fine form, while Julien Favreau and Luciana Croatto shone in their pas de deux.
By the end, when the dancers are fooling around with their orange-yellow jersey sarongs that are twisted and tugged to serve as scarves, sacks and full-body wraps, they were clearly having so much fun that their smiles were contagious.
The Seven Greek Dances began with the sound of crashing waves and a stage awash with mauves, teals and shades of blue as the company moved slowly, seemingly with the rise and fall of the tide. As the music of Mikis Theordorakis picked up, it was easy to imagine oneself on an Aegean isle, watching a wedding festival or other village celebration.
Italian Alessandro Schiattarella did an admirable job as the featured soloist and there were several lively ensemble pieces that mixed high lifts with arm movements and flexed feet that looked as if they had been copied off a collection of ancient Grecian urns.
The party ends with some exuberant Zorba the Greek linked-arms dancing by the men before the sun goes down, the tide rolls in and the dancers finish much as they began. Overall, it was the best ballet on the program.
The finale, however, was the crowd-pleasing Bolero, one of Bejart's most famous ballets. It's a 16-minute testament to the strength of the dancer who has the central role of "The Melody."
The very handsome Argentinian, Octavio Stanley, never stopped moving, and was lovely to watch, but he lacked the pure animal magnetism that would have transformed the piece from the monotonous repetition of movement into a take-no-prisoners rite. It was hard to believe he was really capable of whipping his all-male circle of acolytes around the big red table into a hypnotic frenzy.
The 20 local dancers who filled out the ranks of the piece had little to do but sit and watch Stanley and then jump to their feet at the end, but I'm sure it was just a thrill for them to be on stage with an international company.