are those rare, breathtaking occasions when the physical and
psychological aspects of a dancer's persona transcend our
expectations. It happens seldom, and not to all dancers, but
the moments when it does happen are unmistakable. During
Bejart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century's three-week season
at City Center this past fall, the company's premier
danseur, Jorge Donn, often performed at this extraordinary
peak. Bejart has created his greatest ballets on Donn, who
has been with the company for twenty years.
foremost champion of Bejart's style and aesthetic
philosophy, Donn gave us an uncommonly rare glimpse of the
mature artist in full command of his powers - something we
seldom have the privilege to see.
this happen ? What combination of circumstances makes the
magical event take place ?
through the season, Donn tentatively suggest that it might
be his having gone through a rough time recently - overwork
- burnout, serious physical illness - and the only direction
left to go was up, as high as possible. Although he could
"feel" the New York performances were good and he was
evidently pleased people liked what he was doing, he didn't
want to be complimented, fearing this knowledge would have
an adverse effect on his dancing.
"Every morning when I think about the
evening I get nervous; it's natural. I have to go on stage
each evening as if for the first and the last
create constant tension that takes its toll in available
energy, affecting the head and stomach ?
"No. The only limits you have are where you
put them. If you do not put limits on your body and your
living and your work and your life, then you can go on and
on and on. You have to be new every day, open to everything,
open to change."
embraces a holistic view of life - a life in which the
various elements must be integrated in a delicate balance.
Upset that balance and both the performer and performance
are affected. The reason for Donn's recent "bad period" was
"... I had many problems with my body, but
an even bigger trouble with dance training. More and more
people ask dancers to do what is impossible, without respect
for the body. I am very fortunate that I have a guru and
friend in Bejart, who choreographs very beautiful steps and
beautiful ballets; but Bejart is not my dance teacher. The
emphasis today on technique and nothing but technique
pervades dance and destroys. Many teachers don't ask their
dancers to understand or think about dancing."
years ago Donn first saw the Bejart company in Buenos Aires,
where he had studied dance since he was seven. The
sixteen-year-old ballet student at the Teatro Colon saw, as
he puts it, "men dancing", and recognized in himself
the need to do just that. He took a company class with The
Ballet of the Twentieth Century, and asked Bejart if he
could dance with the company. Bejart told him no, he was too
young, too inexperienced. With the blessing of an
understanding mother ("If you want to go, then go."), Donn
followed Bejart and his company halfway round the world.
in hand, with no prospects other than determination and
talent, Donn showed up on Bejart's doorstep in Brussels and
"I am here. Do you have a place for me
didn't, and said so. Shortly afterwards, when one of the
company men didn't show, Donn was in. This ignited one of
those great creative combinations so exceptional in the
history of any art. Diaghilev had his Nijinski, Balanchine
had Farrell, Bejart Donn.
list of important ballets created by Bejart on Donn includes
Ninth Symphony (1964), Romeo and
Juliet (1966), Mass for the Present
Time (1967), Serait-ce la mort
(1970), Nijinsky, Clown of God (1971),
What Love Tells Me (1974),
Notre Faust (1975), as well as dancing
roles on television and in film. Bejart's is one of the most
important bodies of creative work to emerge, in its own
time, during twentieth century dance. The bond between the
two artists -choreographer and dancer- is so strong, their
professional identities so closely linked, that it is
difficult to imagine one operating successfully without the
other. Although their relationship has shifted in recent
years, Donn insists that he and Bejart have reached a depth
of understanding in which they go for months, working
closely every day, without speaking at all.
Brussels, Donn did not see his mother for the next twelve
years. His twin sister is now married and the mother of a
"beautiful baby" (Donn is very proud of his sister), there
are four brothers, still in Argentina; his father died seven
years ago. But when Donn talks about his "family", he refers
to his fellow dancers in Bejart's company.
"I make guest appearences sometimes with
other companies because I need the money, but I am used to
working with my family, I like to be with family. It's
possible now for me to go dance with any big ballet company
I want, but to dance What ? I could guest and do a Bejart
ballet, yes, to show people that this is the way I work
best, but I wouldn't do Swan Lake or Don Quixote. I could,
but I wouldn't."
work for another choreographer ? In 1977 Donn danced for six
weeks with the New York City Ballet. Grappling through
another dark period in his life, Donn called Suzanne Farrell
from Brussels. Farrell, a close friend and Donn's partner
during the years she danced in Europe with Bejart's company,
encouraged him to hop on a plane for New York. The evening
of his arrival, he went to see City Ballet's Gala preview of
Balanchine's newest ballet. During that performance,
principal dancer Jean-Pierre Bonnefous fell. Afterwards,
backstage, Balanchine came up and asked Donn to dance
Bonnefous's role the next day in the premiere of the new
ballet, Vienna Waltzes. Donn accepted this
startling challenge, learned the role the next morning, and
partnered Farrell later that day in the premiere. With a
little help from Farrell - "Go here, get over there, do
this, then...," all whispered sotto voce behind her smile of
ethereal splendor - Donn "got through it okay". In fact, he
danced splendidly considering the famous Balanchine style
was almost wholly foreign to him. Did Balanchine like it ?
"Yes. I think. He said, "No bad. No bad",
which is great praise from him. After that, he put me in
five more ballets. We had two weeks in New York, four weeks
many beautiful evenings with Suzanne and Mr. B. when we
would discuss dancing. He asked me to come with his company,
but I knew that he believed "ballet is woman". For Bejart,
ballet is men, and I knew I had to go back, back to my
all-important "family" to which Donn refers makes possible
the interpersonal concerns and commitments so important for
good partnering and mutually supportive ensemble work. When
a dancer guests too much, a distance develops between him
the other performers. Although the audience may not be able
to define the problem, there is definitely something wrong
on stage when this condition becomes chronic. Donn admires
Nureyev, who guests with many companies around the world,
but he also recalls dancing a Bejart pas de deux with
Nureyev several years ago.
"To dance with Nureyev was for me, not very
exciting because he would dance alone -even though it's a
pas de deux, you know ?"
a dancer's personal and professional lives are fused,
constantly feeding and nurturing one another. The "family"
makes this possible.
debate in dance circles is the length of a performer's
career. Now in his middle thirties, Donn is nearing that age
when many professionals consider retiring from the stage.
(In 1980 he became the co-artistic director of Bejart's
company, one might suppose as a hehge against eventual
retirement). But Donn insists,
"If you stop at age thirty-five or forty, it
is because your training is not good. A man should be able
to go on dancing until he is sixty-five. It is a question of
roles, of dancing the right things. You do not dance the
prince in Swan Lake or Romeo when you are fifty-five; it is
ludicrous. Change can be very difficult to accept , but you
must open to it".
the famous Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso whom he respects as
a former partner, as a legendary dancer, and as a great
woman, but he is sad to see her dancing roles that not
appropriate either to her age or her altered technique.
"Jose Limon, at seventy, was incredible !
Brilliant ! But he didn't dance Romeo; he danced the things
he did best, like flamenco".
he is particularly fortunate because Bejart is creating
roles "for my age now".
years, Donn has partnered many of the world's great
ballerinas, but partenering
"...means something different. Partner is
the skin, is the smell, is the way you move".
three, maybe four, ballerinas, have filled the almost
mystical needs of a good partnership (taking of granted, of
course, that the dancer will process supremely accomplished
technique). Suzanne Farrell was one
"the kind of person who gives and gives when
more recently is Marcia Haydee :
"I love Marcia because she thinks in the
same way I think, she moves in the same way, she understands
ballets as I do".
Donn's most fascinating performance qualities is
occasionally described as androgynous. In Donn, this is not
a confusion of sexual roles, nor is it nonsexual. Rather, it
is an expression of sexuality on a plane above individual
differences, something like a universal sexuality, which
casts a potent spell on both the men and the women in the
audience. Using this in a theatrically effective way, as
Donn does, takes courage. Although Donn is aware of this
power, he is also hesitant to define it :
"The human being is like
that", he says. "Everybody has it, but it
can be dangerous to use on stage. It was far more common in
ancient cultures - not so much today".
cultures he refers to have been the subject of his and
Bejart's interest for years : Greece, India, the East. He
feels our self-awareness was diminished when we lost our
sexual influence, which was due in large part, he feels, to
the Roman Catholic Church on modern man.
was growing up in Argentina, he could not decide for a while
whether to become an actor or a dancer. He is reputed to
have been quite good on stage in Shakespeare. And he can be
seen in the States in a recently released major film by
Claude Lelouch, Bolero (which runs under different names),
in which he plays the part of a Russian defector, modeled
loosely on Nureyev. There can be no doubt that the trained
actor in Donn has contributed power and discipline - a
daring, controlled abandon - that greatly enrich the
when comfortable, Donn can common a warm verbal wit (he is
quite conversant in English, French, and Spanish), but also
expresses his humor through spontaneously mimed movement -
shrugs, delicately expressive fingers, mobile facial
reactions. There are warmth and vulnerability, too, although
these are more guarded than they once were. Now a vegetarian
as the result of illness, Donn says he learned to take
matters of personal and professional discipline to heart in
an effort to use wisely the glorious instrument of
performance. He feels he does not have time to waste, and
activities and associations that tend to burn the energy
otherwise reserved for dance are carefully weighed against
the consequences. Personally and professionally he has
reached a hard-earned maturity, and he is determined that
the years ahead are going to be the richest possible
expression of many extraordinary gifts. This is exactly that
we experienced at the City Center this past season.