by Patricia Boccadoro
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
, 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.
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
"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.
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."
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
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 Culturekiosque.com.
Place du Casino
M C 98000 Monaco
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
Mixed programme August 3 - 15
Romeo and Juliet
28, 29 June 1999
: Vers un Pays Sage
Choreography : Jean-Christophe Maillot
Credit : Laurent Philippe