The world of dance is mourning French choreographer Maurice Béjart, who died yesterday in a Lausanne hospital at the age of 80.Born in Marseille, Béjart began his career as a dancer before turning to choreography, basing himself first in Belgium then in Switzerland.
He helped revolutionise attitudes to ballet, making difficult contemporary works accessible to a wider public thanks to bold staging. But behind his taste for the extravagant was a perfectionism that won him the respect of his peers.
“He was demanding on himself and therefore on others too,” said dancer and teacher Rita Poelvoorde. “I wouldn’t have achieved half of what I managed if I hadn’t met him.”
Michèle-Anne De Mey, another former pupil, highlighted his ability to foster new talent without becoming overbearing.
“He managed to nurture dancers and young people who made dance their career into becoming choreographers who found their own form of expression and didn’t just reproduce Béjart,” she said.
Béjart worked right up to his death – a new ballet by him “Around the world in 80 minutes” will now be premiered posthumously in December. He converted to Islam in 1973 and had frosty relations with his native France – accusing the French arts establishment of failing to support his work.