Bejart

Shortly after I got to Paris I made friends with a young Frenchman named Philippe. He was from a very wealthy French family and we shared interests in theater and art. He was in his last year of university and still lived with his family in the bourgeois 16th arrondisement. I was often invited to the house for dinner. His father was an engineer and to the best of my recollection he designed airports or oil refineries which explained his frequent absence.

I saw Philippe frequently, but the invitations to their house were especially pleasant, because his older sister was a delight for the eyes and the intellect. She was the Assistant to a very well known composer, Pierre Henry. That raised her status to the clouds, because I was intensely interested in avant garde music. I had met Lamont Young, the predecessor to Phillip Glass in NY, but he was still little known. Henry, on the other hand was already a man of major repute in Europe. So even meeting his Assistant was very special and she promised an introduction. What I really wanted was a date with her, but I was too timid and she seemed too sophisticated to even think about it.

One day, after I knew the family well, we were all there for dinner. She looked at me and said, “I have two tickets for the premiere of Bejart at the opera. Would you like to come?”

Well, I remember my heart stopping, although I don’t remember if it was her or Bejart who stopped it most. I’d studied dance for a few years and had been married to a dancer. Bejart was a French dancer/choreographer whose star had risen like a rocket. He had formed his own dance company, but ran into the opposition of some bureaucrats who refused him the subsidy assist that the government gave to art activities like theater and dance. His work was too far from the mainstream. That had occurred in the late ‘50s when he was still little known beyond real dance aficionados. The Belgians, however, recognized his talent and offered him a place and funding for his company so Bejart left Paris in a scandalous huff and in just a few years became a major figure in dance.

The invitation was for his first return to Paris since his exile and he was doing Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring that had set the dance world on its ear several years earlier in Brussels just as it had done to the world of modern music in Paris many years before.

Did I say No to the invitation? Of course not. I said, “Marvelous. We’ll go to dinner afterwards.” And she said yes.

So it was a dream date on a dream occasion and at the Paris Opera house which is a magic place on any night, say nothing of on the glitter and glisten of the night of a premier. As Pierre Henry’s Assistant the seats she was given were perfect, the house lights went down and I, a fresh, young, American expat in Paris was aglow. When the house lights came back up I had had one of those life moving experiences. I think the entire French audience that had sent Bejart packing off to Belgium had the same reaction for I recall an endless standing ovation. There was a problem, though. I was staggered by the performance. So moved, in fact, that when we got to the top of the steps outside of the Opera House I stopped her. I croaked. I couldn’t speak. I just made her understand the level of my overwhelming. She looked at me and nodded. Dinner was off. One of us took a taxi home. I don’t even remember who.

If you don’t know Bejart, click here: Bejart.

Jack Siler
Bethlehem, CT © 2015

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