One of Europe’s best kept artistic secrets will be revealed in all its glitter and glory when Les Ballets de Monte Carlo makes its New York debut in its newly invigorated incarnation at City Center, October 8-13. Jean-Christophe Maillot is the company’s artistic director and resident choreographer.
Featuring a far-reaching range of ballets that harkens back to the company’s glamorous beginnings in 1909 to new works that forecast its future, the 50-member troupe will present ballets by Fokine and Balanchine as well as Maillot and the Canadian choreographer John Alleyne.
About the New York repertoire: Recalling its illustrious past will be rare performances of Michel Fokine’s dazzling “Polovtsian Dances,” which received its world premiere on the opening night of the historic debut of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris in 1909. Created as the second act of Alexander Borodine’s opera “Prince Igor,” the ballet exists independently of the opera’s plot. The present production uses Nicholas Roerich’s designs for the original decor and costumes.
George Balanchine, whose choreographic career began to receive international attention when he was a young artist with the Ballets Russes and was the original company’s last in-house choreographer, will be represented in performances of two of his ground-breaking classics “The Four Temperaments” (1946) and “Violin Concerto” (1972). Choreographed to Stravinsky’s “Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra,” “Violin Concerto” was set on the company by former New York City Ballet principal Karin Von Aroldingen, and “The Four Temperaments” was set on the company by former New York City Ballet principal Patricia Neary.
The New York season will also introduce the choreography of 35 year old Jean-Christophe Maillot to American audiences. Dynamic in its riveting originality and surging musicality, Maillot’s “Vers un Pays Sage” (Towards a Wise Place) is set to John Adams’s “Fearful Symmetries.” Then, creating another kind of symmetry, Maillot’s second new work for City Center, “Theme and 4 Variations,” is set to Hindemith’s “Theme With Four Variations (According to the Four Temperaments) for String Orchestra and Piano,” the same score used for Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments.”
Finally, the engagement will include the New York premiere of John Alleyne’s “In the Course of Sleeping” to music by Timothy Sullivan. The ballet, a lyrical exploration of the suspended moment between life and death, received its first performance in Monte Carlo this past July.
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s long and complicated history began with the founding of Les Ballets Russes by the great and legendary Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev in Paris in 1909. A catalyst for contemporary music, dance, and art, the original Diaghilev company’s influence has had an indelible effect on every aspect of western art including music, scenic design, fashion, as well as dance. One of the century’s most innovative performing arts troupes, the company consisted of some of the world’s leading dancers and its most revolutionary and influential choreographers including Nijinsky, Pavlova, Fokine, Massine, Karsavina, Balanchine, among others. Of equal importance, it was a meeting ground for the century’s greatest designers and painters (Picasso, Miro, Cocteau, etc.) and composers (Stravinsky, Debussy, Rimsky-Korsakov, etc.) — all of whom created original work for the ballets. The opera house in Monte Carlo became one of Les Ballets Russes’s resident homes beginning in 1911.
After Diaghilev’s death in 1929, the troupe was re-formed in 1932 when it was called Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and headed by Colonel Wassili Basil and Rene Blum. It disappeared for many years, returning in various forms and under various directors until 1985 when a new company was created in Monaco under H.S.H. Princess Caroline of Monaco. The company was headed by Ghislaine Theamar and Pierre Lacotte, then in 1988 by Jean-Yves Esquerre who remained in the position until 1993 when he was succeeded by Jean-Christophe Maillot. In addition to works by Balanchine and Fokine, the present repertory includes ballets by many of Europe’s most innovative choreographers such as William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Nacho Duato, among others.
Jean-Christophe Maillot studied dance and piano at the National Conservatory in the city of Tours, where he was born in 1960. He spent three years in Rosella Hightower’s ballet school in Cannes, where he danced, among other works, the “Death of Venice” of Anton Dolin. In 1977, he was awarded the Prix de Lausanne. The next year he joined the Hamburg Ballet, where he remained until 1983 performing leading roles in many of John Neumeier’s ballets including “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Song Fest,” “Age of Anxiety,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Lady of the Camellias,” “Saint Matthew’s Passion,” as well as in John Cranko’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and Murray Louis’s “Stravinsky Montage.”
In 1993 Maillot returned to Tours where he was appointed Director of the Ballet du Tours, which was designated a National Choreographic Center in 1989. He created some twenty ballets for the company, including “Juliette and Romeo,” which was performed at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris in 1986. During this period, he also served as guest choreographer with Le Jeune Ballet de France, Ballet du Nord, Ballet du Rhin, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Introdans Company (Netherlands), Ballet de l’Opéra de Rome, and Nederlands Dans Theater. In December 1992, he participated in the staging of the arrival of the Olympic Flame on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.
Maillot was a jury member of the Prix de Lausanne for several years since 1986 and served as its jury chairman in 1993. That year he was also appointed Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by Jack Lang, the French Minister of Culture at the time.
Artistic consultant of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo for the 1992/1993 season, he joined the company permanently in September 1993 when he was appointed Artistic Director by H.S.H. Princess Caroline of Monaco. The company, which travels internationally for six months a year, was awarded the Danza & Danza Prize by Italian critics for the year’s best international dance company.