Belle, the most recent production from Cia de Dança Deborah Colker, is freely inspired by the novel
Belle de Jour, written in 1928 by French-Argentine writer Joseph Kessel and transformed into a classic surrealist film almost four decades later, in 1967, by one of cinema’s greatest masters, Mexican
Luis Buñuel (1900-1983).
The story of Séverine, a bourgeois housewife who in order to fill the emptiness of her existence, finds herself hopelessly compelled to transgress the frontiers of her fairytale life and spend her afternoons
in a brothel, where she goes by the name of Belle, seduced Deborah Colker in 2011, just after the premiere of Tatyana, also inspired by a literary work.
The theme of Belle, however, has a closer association to other company productions, such as Nó (Knot),
in 2005, and Cruel, in 2008, both dealing in different ways with the most atavistic of human drives – eroticism.
With one fundamental difference: Belle brings out mainly the other side of the coin. It shows the clash between the flesh and the spirit, love and desire, reason and instinct, the real and imaginary – intimate conflicts that haunt and torment civilized man. For Deborah, what makes the character from Kessel’s
book a unique and fascinating person is the fact that she answers the implacable call of instinct, without abandoning marriage and the discreet charm of everyday bourgeois life, which she sincerely values, revealing an unusual capacity to divide herself, with supreme diligence, between the two servitudes.
“Kessel’s book was my helmsman,” says Deborah Colker, “but my challenge was to translate the brutal
and so profoundly human dichotomy that moves this woman’s story into movement, and by the very nature of the choreographic language, my translation is a much more poetic statement than the original narrative itself. My adaptation of Belle de Jour carried my personal stamp in the double figure of Séverine on stage. Both in the original novel and in Buñuel’s film, Séverine and Belle are the same person. But as in dance everything is transmitted through the body, I felt the need to use two dancers.”
To this was added something else that revives one of the icons of classical ballet – the pointe ballet shoes, used by the dancers at the start of the performance.
“It is a resource that I love to use,” says Deborah “When Isadora Duncan took off the ballet shoes at the start of the 20th century it was a major break. But the wheel continues to turn. Pina Bausch brought back the pointe and the narrative ballet. The contemporary attitude, for me, is in the healthy disobedience of ready formulae.”
To a sound track that goes from the genius of Miles Davis to Lou Reed, with passages of electronic music, in its beginning Belle concentrates the action on Séverine’s home and goes on to her secret discovery of the brothel where the female cast exchanges the ballet shoes for high-heels, an option that reinforces the personal and exclusive interpretation of the novel by the choreographer.
“Belle, in the form in which I present it, leaves a question hanging in the air, and leaves the final choice to the spectator – in the end, is this a story that really takes place, or is it just a fantasy created by Séverine?”
Companhia de Dança Debora Colker has been sponsored by the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras since 1995.