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

Following on from the examination of creative process in Rawaa, DANSOX provides an opportunity to examine and discuss the process of building an interpretation for performance. In a fascinating lecture presentation Performing Beckett renowned Irish actress Lisa Dwan discusses her recent work and invites discussion of her repertoire – especially Not I and other stunning dramatisations of Samuel Beckett.  She explores how her dance training enabled her to refine the all-encompassing performance technique and control required to engender the challenging physical requirements of Beckett’s plays.

Date:  Thursday 16 November 2017 5:30pm 

Venue:  Jacqueline du Pré Building, St Hilda’s College

The event is free and open to all but booking essential at Eventbrite here

For further information about Dance Scholarship Oxford events see also http://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/dansox: or contact Professor Susan Jones: susan.jones@ell.ox.ac.uk