Béjart Ballet Glissades Its Way Onto The Jaquet Droz Petite Heure Minute In Tokyo
I guess I’d never really thought about it before. But it was in Tokyo that I really noticed it: the dials of Jaquet Droz’s normal collection watches make for great canvases to place other artistic elements.
Until now, the brand’s decorated dials had never been the product of a collaboration and the reason for that is simple: Jaquet Droz hadn’t found the right partner. But that’s changed.
Earlier in 2014, the brand based in La Chaux-de-Fonds announced a partnership with Lausanne’s Béjart Ballet. This may sound like a bit of a disconnect at first, but if you take a moment to ponder Jaquet Droz’s past, which has morphed into its present and soon into its future, you will understand that there could not have been a more perfect collaborative partner for Jaquet Droz in this entire world.
The brand’s roots are deeply ensconced within the automata that Pierre Jaquet Droz so cleverly brought to life in the 1700s. For a look at a modern interpretation of the brand’s automata, please read The Jaquet Droz Signing Machine: The Evolution Of Traditional Automata.
A ballet dancer perfectly masters the movements of his or her body, which makes for perfect allegory to Pierre Jaquet Droz’s lifelike mechanical androids. Flow, flux, movement, human expression through motion…what better expresses all of that and then some than a ballet dancer making his or her rounds onstage?
The Béjart Ballet company in Lausanne is quite famous in the world of dance for its non-traditional choreography. This is thanks to its founder, Maurice Béjart, who rejected a specific ideal of style while choreographically adapting dance to existing music. The artistic means he implemented varied according to the project he was in the process of creating.
One of his most famous – and complex – projects celebrates a 50-year anniversary in 2014: his choreography of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Produced for the last time in 1964, one of Béjart’s most famous and moving dance masterpieces – which gathers more than 200 artists on stage (dancers, musicians, singers) – formed the high point of the company’s 2014 season. This culminated in Tokyo on November 8 at the premier of the ballet in collaboration with the Tokyo Ballet and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel, directed by Zubin Mehta.
To say this work of stage art is complex would be akin to calling a mechanical movement such as Jaquet Droz’s Bird Repeater “complex”: both are highly precise oeuvres combining a great number of individual parts all working together to perform coherently, precisely, and – above all – majestically.
“These are two ‘artisans’ celebrating their art,” Pierre Pastori, president of the Béjart Ballet Lausanne Foundation, said. “Dance and watchmaking are linked by movement and precision.”
And, perhaps even more uniquely, the two are among the first to collaborate in such a way, with the result becoming something that might be compared to animated poetry.
“In its quest for excellence,” Pastori continued, “Jaquet Droz is now a part of Béjart’s ‘everyday’.”
This piece of music officially called Symphony No. 9 in D Minor was completed in 1824 and is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of music in the entire world. An international symbol of unity, it is also – I was surprised to learn – traditionally performed in Japan as part of New Year’s celebrations. The Japan Times even reported that there were “55 performances of the symphony by various major orchestras and choirs in Japan in 2009.”
Universally considered German composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s greatest work, dance buffs know that Béjart’s choreography of Symphony No. 9 in D Minor is also considered his greatest work. As the symphony was the first example of a famous composer integrating vocal components (which technically makes it a choral symphony), Béjart dared to choreograph modern, non-traditional elements into the accompanying dance.
The Ninth Symphony was added to the United Nations World Heritage List in 2001 (the first musical score so honored) and is divided into four movements (what a fitting musical term!).
Though experts argue as to the exact interpretation of the symphony – and, indeed, interpreting classical music is one of those things that is, and should be, personal for everyone – it is widely accepted that universal brotherhood comprises the overlying theme.
This is particularly obvious in the fourth movement where we find the choral arrangement based on Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy poem, which the famous German poet wrote in 1785 and revised in 1803. Beethoven added a few introductory words to it for his oeuvre.
I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the Béjart and Tokyo Ballet companies perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Tokyo. The dancers wore orange and yellow costumes during the fourth movement, which personally reminded me of the sun, thereby also imparting a tangible interpretation of joy.
Freude, schöner Götterfunken!
As beautiful as this all is, you are surely asking what this might have to do with watches other than being part of an interesting and aesthetic collaboration.
The line in Ode to Joy “Freude, schöner Götterfunken” is German and means, “Joy, you beautiful descended gods.” As I was in Tokyo, someone who did not speak German asked me what this meant as we looked through the program.
This translation is quite poetic, and most certainly expert literature translators through the years have translated it so. However, if you take the compound word Götterfunken literally, it could also mean “godly sparks.”
I choose the latter definition; in my mind’s eye the sparks have jumped from the stage in Tokyo, where all of this beauty has come together, and landed right on the dial of Jaquet Droz’s latest timepiece.
Fittingly, the first timepiece commemorating the watch brand’s partnership with the Béjart Ballet is a pas de deux, one half of which is housed in a 39 mm white gold case set with diamonds and the other half in a 43 mm red gold case.
Though it is not expressly said, one can assume this to be a his-and-hers set.
A very special Petite Heure Minute
Jaquet Droz’s Petite Heure Minute model was chosen as the base for this very special set because the expanse of space on the dial offers the ability for it to become an artistic canvas.
But how should the brand best capture the poetry in motion that is the Béjart Ballet?
This is where French artist Stéphanie Barba comes in. Barba specializes in movement and motion: her eye is able to quickly discern a rhythm and pass it to her hand, where it becomes a drawing, a sketch or even a watercolor painting.
For years Barba has attended performances and practice sessions of the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, sketching her impressions; so it didn’t take long for the ballet company’s artistic director Gil Roman to suggest her to the watch company.
Bringing the dancers to life on paper, Barba pays tribute to their vocation, grace and, above all, movement. The unique sketches were all Jaquet Droz’s own artists needed to pay homage to the dancers of the Béjart Ballet.
Jaquet Droz chose two of Barba’s artistic works from a portfolio of twenty sketches she made inspired by the Béjart performance of The Rite of Spring. One of Jaquet Droz’s artisans transferred the sketches under Barba’s direction onto the watch dials in enamel.
“The Vulture” (le Vautour), which graces the smaller timepiece and is one of the most characteristic movements of Béjart’s choreography, represents a magnificent opening of the dancer’s body.
The men’s watch is embellished by a red chalk sketch of “the Chief” (le Chef), which represents a moment in the ballet signifying two men fighting to rule the tribe.
The drawings are painted by hand on the enamel dials and engraved on the rotors.
In 2014, Switzerland marks the 150th anniversary of the first trade and friendship agreement between the Swiss Confederation and the Taikun (the 14th shogun of Japan), an act that marked the start of commercial relations between the two countries, so Jaquet Droz could not have picked a better year to let its inner ballet geek hang out.
“It’s a human relationship first and foremost,” said Christian Lattmann, vice-president of Jaquet Droz as he explained that this was the first time that the brand has written an artist’s name on the dial. “It’s a unique moment in time.”
Case: 39 mm (white gold) and 43 mm (red gold)
Dial: ivory-colored grand feu enamel with hand-enameled figure
Movement: automatic Jaquet Droz Caliber 2653, twin spring barrels
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 28 pieces each
Price: 39,500 Swiss francs for the Vulture and 32,700 Swiss francs for the Chief (excluding applicable taxes)