Choreographer and director Micha van Hoecke has died after a long illness, at 77. He was a leading figure in Italian and European dance from the early 1960s. He began as a dancer with Roland Petit, then worked closely with Maurice Béjart in the Ballet du XX siécle and later headed his own company, Ensemble Ballet Theatre.
Van Hoecke loved Italy, and since 1989 he lived with his wife, the Japanese dancer Miki Matsuse, in Castiglioncello, on the coast of Tuscany. He died on 7 August and his funeral was held yesterday, 11 August.
Vladimir Derevianko, who attended the funeral, said,
Micha had the soul of a child, always ready to be excited by a discovery, to experiment, to put himself back into the game. He was an imaginative creator with an extraordinary choreographic facility. He loved Russia and we often spoke in our mother tongue.
Van Hoecke was born in Brussels in 1944 to a Russian mother, who was a singer, and a Belgian father, who was a painter. His maternal aunt was a dancer and he said,
I lived in a family of artists, between music and singing, painting and dance. From a very young age I was surrounded by so many doyens and art lovers.
Micha van Hoecke began studying classical dance in Paris with Olga Preobrajenska. Equally keen on the cinema, he acted as an adolescent in the films of Yannick Andrei, Hervé Brombergé, Pierre Granier Deferre and Claude Lelouch (Les uns et les autres). In 1960, when he was 15, he entered Roland Petit’s dance company and then, in 1962, he joined Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XX siécle.
Luciana Savignano, an erstwhile muse of Béjart’s, said,
I am devastated and can’t believe that Micha van Hoecke has passed on. None of us expected that in such a short time he would leave us. He was a unique artist… one of a kind. He had flair, inventiveness, genius. We worked together for more than 20 years. Each time was a total joy and full of surprises; his theatre was all-embracing and included dance in all its wonderful forms.
Whilst with the Ballet du XX siécle, he worked as a dancer, a choreographer, and Béjart’s assistant before becoming the director of Béjart’s École Mudra. From the 1970s onward, he devoted himself exclusively to the choreography of 20th century ballet. With other dancers from the company, he founded the Chandra Group.
Dance is beyond technique. For me, the dancer is the expression of a humanity and not a form.
In 1981, he established the Ensemble Ballet Theatre with the best elements of the Mudra and moved into the Maison de la Culture in Tournai. In 1984, he and his company took up residence at the Wilson Centre in Rome.
Micha van Hoecke also collaborated with La Scala in Milan, Teatro Verdi in Pisa, San Carlo in Naples, the Montepulciano Festival, the Victor Ullate Company, the Maggio Musicale in Florence, and the Athens Opera among others.
Since 1990, he had a close working relationship with the Ravenna Festival and Riccardo Muti, often choreographing the dances in operas when Muti was conducting, in Ravenna and elsewhere. At Ravenna he made his directing debut in 1991 with Auber’s La Muette de Portici, and later Carmen, Macbeth, and Faust. From 1997 to 2002, he was the artistic director and principal choreographer of the Teatro Massimo Ballet in Palermo, and he was the director of the Rome Opera Theatre Ballet from 2010 to 2014, and for Rome Opera he directed Aida and Carmina Burana.
His last major work was the rock ballet Shine! Pink Floyd Moon for the Daniele Cipriani Company in 2019. He defined it as an intimate autobiographical tale though it “told the story of everyman”.
In 1998, van Hoecke shared the stage with Carla Fracci in Béjart’s Heure exquise for Torinodanza. In May of this year, he was due to start rehearsals with Alessandra Ferri for the same ballet, but on that day not only did Fracci die, but van Hoecke was rushed to hospital. It was his last professional engagement.
Micha van Hoecke: born in Bruxelles, 22 luglio 1944 – died in Castiglioncello, 7 agosto 2021.
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.