Obituary: Jorge Donn
Thursday 03 December 1992
SINCE the Second World War there is in the history of dance theatre an exclusive band of dance athletes whose physical and sexual magnetism refashioned and re-established the image of the male dancer in our times. They include: Jean Babilee, Erik Bruhn, Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell, Richard Cragun, Christopher Bruce, Antonio, Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Vladimir Vasiliev and Maris Liepa. Each has shown a different aspect of male dance appeal. Among them is Jorge Donn.
Donn's muscular prowess, personality and Apollonian good looks drew attention not only to male dancing per se but to the qualities of classical training and classical performance being developed in South America during these years. This South American, mostly Argentinian, achievement has been marginalised unjustly by writers in Europe and North America. Donn united in himself a technique founded on Argentinian training with the drama and athleticism of a dancer for Maurice Bejart in Brussels.
Born in Buenos Aires, Donn studied at the distinguished ballet school of the Teatro Colon and appeared during his early teens in small parts on stage and on television. He was obsessed with dance all his life and the decisive moment in this life was the arrival in Buenos Aires in 1963 of Maurice Bejart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century. Like many other young people, including young dancers, Donn was hooked on the brash, flamboyant, powerfully spectacular conceptions of Bejart's choreography and the bold philosophy behind it. There is nothing, Bejart seemed to say, which dance, especially male dancing, cannot express about the human presence in the world.
Later the same year the 16-year- old Donn followed the company to its base in Brussels. I remember in the early 1970s visiting Bejart's Mudra School which sought to train his conception of the all- round theatre artist. By then Donn had become established as the public image of Bejart's creations. Bejart choreographed no longer with Donn but for Donn.
Donn gave to Bejart in return the devotion of a religious disciple, appropriate because his dancing seemed able to transmit into physical reality the philosophic ideas which inspired Bejart's work. It was a potent partnership, the more so when realised through Bejart's striking use of visual theatre and the frequent display of near-naked male bodies required by his choreography.
A notable explosion from this partnership occurred in 1971 with Bejart's Nijinsky, Clown de Dieu. It gave Donn the role for which he may be remembered best alongside the Bejart Bolero of later years. I saw Nijinsky in a vast Brussel's arena where the screams of a young audience recalled the Beatles and Rolling Stones at the height of their fame.
Donn used to say of Nijinsky that it left him with withdrawal symptoms, as if drugged. Bolero, equally, was a demonstration of extraordinary sexual force. Both roles emphasised the charisma which illuminated a body not notable for its dance technique but compelling for its sensuality and quality of movement. This is what excited his many fans and what he gave to role after role for Bejart, among others Romeo and Juliet (1966), Baudelaire (1968), Les Vainqueurs (1969), Firebird (1970 and 1973), L'Ange Heurtebise (1972), Notre Faust (1975), Les Illuminations (1978), and Magic Flute (1981). The same qualities can be seen, of course, in films of Bejart's productions but also in a film about Donn himself. Made by Belgian television in 1972, it is entitled simply Le Danseur.
Occasionally Donn might leave Bejart to explore acting in Paris or guest with other companies. Always he returned, ultimately moving with Bejart to Lausanne in 1987. Increasingly, he had to confront the problem which haunts all dancers, a future after dancing. He tried his hand at several companies, becoming artistic director of the Ballet of the Twentieth Century in 1980 but had not time to develop this position, not least because he continued to choreograph, make films and dance until this year.
His significance is as a charismatic dancer of the 20th century whose early training in Argentina enabled him to become a symbol of male dancing in Europe. He symbolised also some part of the future of his profession. Classical dance will keep its French, British, Danish, Russian and other local accents. Increasingly though these accents will be interpreted by dancers of many nationalities from within and outside Europe. Like Jorge Donn.
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