French dancer and choreographer.
Maurice Béjart, son of the philosopher Gaston Berger, was born in Marseilles and studied dance in Paris and London. Having made his debut in Vichy in 1945, he joined the Royal Swedish Ballet in 1950 under the direction of Roland Petit. In 1953 Béjart founded Les Ballets de l'Étoile (originally Ballet Romantique, later Ballet-Théâtre de Paris), serving as both its artistic director and star soloist. In 1959 his production of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps created for the Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie in Brussels was so well received that he was invited to remain there permanently. This invitation enabled him to develop his Ballet of the Twentieth Century, which became a vehicle for his personal experimentation. Many of Béjart's earlier works were inspired by classical masterpieces – Bolero (Ravel, 1960), Bacchanale de Tannhäuser (Wagner, 1961), Noces (Stravinsky, 1962), Damnation of Faust (Berlioz, 1964), and Ninth Symphony (Beethoven, 1964). Other works involved the music of composers as varied as Bach, Bartók, Berg, and Boulez. Eastern philosophies and traditions later became a powerful influence, as in Bakhti (1968), Golestan, Garden of Roses (1973), and Kabuki (1986).
In 1970 Béjart established an arts centre for the development of ‘total theatre’, a Wagnerian concept that has remained a lifelong preoccupation, encouraging him to experiment not only with subject matter and form but also with presentation (on one occasion in a sports arena). His productions were typically lavish and spectacular, often outraging critics but delighting a devoted following. Béjart enigmatically named his centre MUDRA, which was widely taken to be an obscure acronym but in fact refers to the hand gestures in Hindu religious dancing. In 1974 Béjart shared the Erasmus Prize with Dame Ninette de Valois. He has also received national honours in Belgium and Japan. In 1975 he organized the first Venice Festival of the Dance. In 1987 Béjart transferred his company to Lausanne, Switzerland, renaming it Béjart Ballet Lausanne. Béjart's writings include a novel, a play, and an autobiography cryptically entitled Whose Life? (1997).