The timeless tale of “Romeo and Juliet” is given a new and riveting retelling by Jean-Christophe Maillot, artistic director of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, in his bold, radical production, “Romeo et Juliette,” which will have its New York premiere when Les Ballets de Monte Carlo returns to City Center, May 12-16.
Set to the complete Prokofiev score, the ballet’s structure is based on the episodic form of the music. Psychologically more complex than previous versions of the ballet, Maillot’s telling has Juliet, and her passionate love for Romeo, as the moving force of the story, with the nurse, Juliet’s mother and Friar Lawrence given more developed roles. While most interpretations of the tale focus on the tragedy resulting from the political and social feud between the families, Maillot concentrates on the emotional turmoil of the lovers, their tumultuous adolescent conflicts that rage within: Tenderness and violence, fear and pride, and the fatal consequences of their unrestrained passions.
Maillot, who is more concerned with the expression of feeling than the technical virtuosity of the dancers, explores the powerful spiritual, sensual and emotional aspects of love and the psychological relationships between the characters. His personal use of the classic ballet vocabulary is marked by an unconventional use of energy and line.
Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s set, a moving series of transparent white panels, suggests the universality and timeless quality of the story, while the costumes, mostly white for the Montagues and black for the Capulets, evoke both the Italian Renaissance and contemporary life.
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, Anton Dolin’s “Death in Venice.” 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 1983, Maillot returned to Tours to become 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 et Romeo,” which was performed at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris in 1986. Unlike his present version, the ballet used a commissioned score and had a cast of 12. While in Tours, he also served as guest choreographer with 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.
In 1993, Jean-Christophe Maillot was appointed Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by Jack Lang, the French Minister of Culture at the time. The same year, he was also appointed Director-Choreographer of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo by H.S.H. The Princess Caroline de Monaco, now H.R.H. The Princess of Hanover.
Since assuming his present position in Monaco, Maillot has also created ballets for Stuttgart Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Essen Ballet, and the Royal Ballet of Flanders. He has been commissioned to create a new ballet for the Paris Opera Ballet that will premiere next year.
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 Thesmar 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.
The company tours six months a year, and performs and works on new creations in Monaco the other half. Maillot’s most recent ballet for the company, “Cendrillon,” also set to the Prokofiev score of the same name, was premiered in Monte Carlo this month.