Béjart – Le mandarin merveilleux – Sex education in art and daily life

The Béjart Ballet was in town. That is an experience that I never miss. Béjart exceeds one’s expectations and time and again succeeds in surprising me. It is like a meeting with another dimension. It is perfection, it is essential pure art, the realisation of music and movement, which attracts me.

I took my youngest (10 years old) with me. And let’s be honest, I wasn’t sure how that would work out. It started with music by Bela Bartok and that is not exactly easy to digest and everyone’s favourite.

Le Mandarin Merveilleux is a gloomy piece that Béjart created in 1992, as his star dancer, Jorge Donn, lay on his death bed. In his memoires Béjart wrote:” I created works as if their creation held some power over death. I piled on new pieces to save Donn from death.”

The story danced is brutal. A prostitute lures victims for a band of criminals. The men were attracted by her charms, then attacked and robbed. The third victim, a mandarin, is murdered. The dance performance was so intensive that one not only saw the dancing, but was in the midst of a brutal story and suffered with the victims. The intensity was so severe that I noticed that my youngest turned his head aside so that he didn’t have to watch. But after a few seconds, he was watching again, because he didn’t really want to miss anything. The scenes, in which the prostitute seduced her victims, appalled my youngest and during such scenes he hid his head in his hands. What a happy age, when one looks away from a kiss.


The dance and the music were so closely blended that, when in future I hear this work, I will always see the dancers before my eyes. There was another piece with chansons and pictures of Edith Piaf and “Tombées de la dernière pluie” by Franz Schubert with percussion. The whole afternoon was a success, excellent and exceeded the high expectations.



We left Theater 11 reluctantly, saddled our scooters (in the city the two of us always use them) and started for home. But in the Messe Oerlikon next to Theater 11 the Erotic Fair was being held and we met two young ladies, who with their makeup looked significantly more shady than the prostitutes in Bejart’s work. My youngest looked at them stunned and with disapproval. We passed the entrance to the Erotic Fair and discovered a young man with a self-made poster on a piece of cardboard. Around him were a few young people discussing passionately with him. The young man held the opinion that there should be no pre-marital sex and that the Erotic Fair belittled the dignity of women. The group exchanged their differing opinions vehemently.

I don’t think that my youngest understood everything. He listened, sometimes with disapproval, sometimes with his eyes wide open. It was quasi sex education in real life, daily life. On the way home we had a discussion. How Bela Bartok’s music is not an easy subject. I think we’ll need several discussions. What can ballet be good for!! Without the visit we would scarcely have had such wide-ranging entertainment.

Image source: G. Batardon

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