And so Julien Favreau shows how it should be done.
I find myself in Rome writing this review, and so the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” comes to mind. Favreau has been dancing Maurice Béjart’s Boléro since 2011. His debut in the role was in Italy, in Aosta’s stunning Roman Theatre, and since he has been performing the piece regularly all over the world. Someone new to the role is still preoccupied about remembering the sequence, let alone finding and expressing all the physical and emotional nuances.
Favreau’s Melody in Boléro is very concerned with what’s around him: the dancers below him circling the red table, and us, the other side of the fourth wall. He glares, commands, seduces. The strength of his gestures contrasts with moments when it appears exhaustion has taken over, his arms hanging limply at his side.
‘Contrast’ is the word that characterizes his performance and puts it on another level to the admirable first attempts by Roberto Bolle and newly nominated Principal Dancer, Martina Arduino at La Scala. Favreau’s dying-swan arms and a hypnotic effect with his fingers as though imitating a flame rising to lick the sky, juxtapose with the forcefulness of his outwardly thrusting hands and the power as he performs the role’s famed jumps.
Julien Favreau is, of course, a specialist in dancing Béjart’s works, having joined Béjart Ballet Lausanne in 1995 after leaving the Rudra Béjart School Lausanne the previous year. Béjart created several pieces on him and he’s a leading dancer with the company. If he can’t mine the work’s possibilities, who can.
It would be difficult to fail in Boléro – apart from the fact that only those who come close to Béjart’s standards have permission to perform it. The music, the lighting, the forty men dancing around the central character, all slowly upping the tension until everything suddenly implodes — music crashing to a close; lights snapping to black; dancers collapsing spent around the table. It makes for a strikingly tense theatrical experience.
After Ravel’s pulsing rhythms cease, the audience’s response is either a huge ovation or an overwhelming one. Julien Favreau earned his overwhelming ovation at La Scala by the fascinating use of light and shade he brought to each gesture — the continually fluctuating dynamics and intentions. It resulted in a mesmerising performance.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.