Maurice Béjart’s dance work L’Heure Exquise, inspired by and to some extent based on Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days, is a totally enthralling theatrical experience.  In the visually spectacular opening scene, Alessandra Ferri emerges like a delicate flower from a vast mound of pointe shoes, which opens at the front, as it if were a huge skirt, allowing her to step out.  Upstage right, Carsten Jung sits facing away from us, plucking a guitar: he might be her lover, her partner, or perhaps even her minder or carer, perhaps all of these.  Ferri’s performance is breath-taking.  She seems to drift in and out of reality, checking a pair of shoes for performance, reciting and singing snatches of poetry, prayers and songs, or dancing fragmentary steps.  Beckett’s character Winnie speaks in clichés that reveal greater truths;  Ferri, as Béjart’s ‘She’, dances them, at one moment indicating a Swan Queen with her ports de bras, at another, dragging her folded red parasol snaking along the stage as Giselle does the sword.  Like Winnie, ‘She’ has a bag of pathetically limited possessions, which she lays out on the stage: there is a mirror, a rose, and (as in Beckett’s play) a gun.

By the second act, Ferri is buried to her neck at the top of the pointe shoe mountain, wrapped in a chiffon veil that could be the skirt of a romantic tutu, or a shroud.  She bravely wears a jaunty white pillbox hat with a feather, but her situation is clearly desperate.  Jung (Béjart’s ‘He’) has become indispensable as he lifts and carries her around the stage.  Ferri’s relentless optimism is heart-breaking; she slowly and carefully enunciates the lyrics of Franz Lehár’s Merry Widow waltz, from which Béjart’s piece takes its name, as if everything is slipping away from her; she sings almost to the end.  We know that when she is gone, the pointe shoes will be her only tangible remains, and the dance, temporarily captured and uniquely embodied within her, will be lost.  Dance is tragically ephemeral, and so is life itself.

Maggie Watson

27th October 2021