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Jean-Christophe Maillot and
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo

Interview by Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 28 June 1999 - Perhaps one thing should be said straight from the start. The Ballet of Monte-Carlo is not the same company as Diaghilev's Ballets Russes , which, from around 1911, was permanently based for part of the year in Monaco.

People tend to forget that today's Ballets de Monte-Carlo was founded in 1985, and is the most recent of a succession of companies bearing the same name. The material difference between the present troupe and those in residence before is that the former is financed by Monaco, whereas its predecessors were all independent with private sponsors.
The difference unfortunately doesn't stop there, for its current director, the French choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot is not surrounded by the greatest painters, composers and dancers of the day; Balanchine, Massine, Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy, Picasso, Bakst, Matisse, Pavlova and Nijinsky gathered there because Diaghilev had created the first professional dance company in the world.

Maillot is there at the request of S.A.R. the Princess of Hanover, the company's President, who wished to fulfil her mother's dream of a dance company once again becoming an essential part of the cultural life of Monaco. Princess Grace had offered the directorship of a troupe to George Balanchine who had refused to leave New York for reasons of his own, but who gave the company several of his major works created in its theatre.

"Balanchine was the link between Les Ballets Russes and dance today", Jean-Christophe Maillot told me in a recent interview at the Theatre de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. "Monte-Carlo is a company anchored in history, and it is our responsibility to present traditional works as well as the Balanchine heritage, but at the same time we have our feet planted firmly in the here and now and I intend to make dance move forward".

"We're the company of tomorrow for cultural as well as economic reasons," Maillot continued. "It's going to be increasingly difficult for choreographers like myself to finance their own companies, and I believe audiences no longer want an exclusively repertory company. Dance lives because eighty percent is creation, whether we are dancing my ballets or those of Lucinda Childs, Forsythe or Duato."

Certainly the Princess Caroline is strongly in favour of the contemporary image projected by Maillot, who describes his own work as a subtle exploration of the neo-classical world. "Rudolf Nureyev spoke of me as a post-classic ; I oscillate between narration and abstraction", said the choreographer. "My work is more a research into Balanchine coupled with a fascination for Pina Bausch and Cunningham, but has nothing to do with the contemporary dance scene in the French understanding of the term" (an oblique reference to the work of Bagouet and Larrieu).

Born in Tours in 1960, Maillot studied classical dance and music at the local Conservatoire before completing his training at Rosella Hightower's Centre of Dance in Cannes. He subsequently joined Neumeier's Ballet of Hamburg before becoming director and choreographer of the Ballet of Tours at the age of twenty-three. "Up to now, I've created about fifty ballets, but I've only kept five or six of them. In all the rest, I was finding my way", Maillot told me. "I'm interested in the behaviour of people, and their reactions to certain situations; I want to transmit an emotion to the public, and propose other solutions to the classics which no longer correspond to what the audience wants".

"For example, the corps de ballet in both Cranko's and MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet has no business being there; I don't want people dancing around behind my principals just to look nice. I've danced Cranko's version, and know he was never interested by the work of the corps de ballet. They don't exist for themselves in Macmillan's work either, but as a background for Romeo and Juliet."

Among Jean-Christophe Maillot's "solutions" in his version of Romeo and Juliet, where the power of the Prokofiev score completely over-shadows the lightweight choreography, is to make everyone dance everything. Everyone except his star dancer, the magnificent Bernice Coppieters for whom he created the role of Juliet.

He presents a "purified" version, bereft of all (false) sentiment or romanticism. There is no poison, there are no swords, the decor with luminous white panels is resolutely modern and abstract, and all but a hint of the Renaissance is banished from the stage. To explain this stripping of our dreams, mine at least, Maillot says he wanted to make it relevant to today , but what he's saying is that he's reduced passion to the values of Monte-Carlo.

Abstract pieces for the company include Dov'è la luna and the limpid Vers un Pays Sage, but Maillot's most recent production is another narrative work, Cinderella, premiered in Monaco in April. The theme was dictated by Prokofiev's music, but the choreographer has, he says, broken away from the Walt Disney image to make a comment on the world in general. "After all", he said, "Cinderella is a rather boring person, at least until she falls in love. Either you see it as pure fantasy, or you treat it to demonstrate the hypocrisy around us."

Vers un Pays Sage

As usual, the choreographer did not distribute roles until forty-eight hours before the performance, giving the dancers the "freedom " to appropriate their own part. "One of the problems with the big classical companies is that the directors make all cast decisions, giving no responsibility to their artists. There is a ridiculous power struggle between them which doesn't exist in Monte-Carlo, where the role goes naturally to the best dancer."

Future projects in the tiny principality of concrete high-rise buildings, better known until now for its luxurious casino, include taking dance into the local circus ring.

Prince Rainier, whom nobody's yet accused of good taste, asked Maillot to stage Nutcracker Circus, for his Jubilee at Christmas. It was a work Maillot began many years ago in Tours, but abandoned for lack of funds. "I've transposed Hoffman's tale into the world of the circus to see how far classical dance can go in such a setting. We shall be working with the circus performers and the exciting thing is that it will be danced only ten times and then discarded. I've no limits; whether or not it is a commercial success is irrelevant because it won't be seen again. The critics can say what they like; it won't bother me at all".

For Jean Christophe Maillot has a contract which gives him complete command. He controls both artistic matters and the budget which he takes very seriously. "I have to know what is going on everywhere all the time," he told me. "Money which could be given to the building of hospitals or motorways is coming to dance, so I must justify what I spend".

With his international company of fifty dynamic young dancers from eighteen countries, and his determination to break down all frontiers between classical and contemporary dance, Jean-Christophe Maillot is there to dare to go further. He has, he says, no right to be too careful. But on his travels perhaps he should ask audiences around the world just why they run, queue and flock to the classical, traditional ballets. As he himself pointed out, there is not one truth, but many.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance from Paris. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

Ballets de Monte-Carlo

Place du Casino
M C 98000 Monaco
Telephone: 377 92 16 24 20
Les Nuits de la Danse: Creation of the Compagnie Castafiore(Marcia Barcellos and Karll Biscuit) for the Ballets de Monte - Carlo
Mixed programme August 3 - 15

Touring programme

Greece: Athens
Romeo and Juliet
Choreography Maillot
28, 29 June 1999

Bilbao, Oviedo
October 1999

November 1999

Photo : Vers un Pays Sage
Choreography : Jean-Christophe Maillot
Credit : Laurent Philippe

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