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Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo brings dazzling production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to Segerstrom Center

Segerstrom Center for the Arts presents the dazzling Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo making its long-awaited return to the Center with Romeo and Juliet. Considered by many to be the iconic ballet of renowned choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot, Romeo and Juliet has been performed more than 250 times around the world, usually greeted with rousing standing ovations — and has been added to the repertoire of seven major dance companies.

Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet is a ballet that harmoniously unites classical ballet and contemporary dance to create a truly cinematic style of modern theater. With the quality, youthful energy, and elegance that characterizes this distinguished company, this remarkable version is one of the most beautiful ballets adapted from Shakespeare’s masterpiece seen today.

Knowing audiences arrive with a certain knowledge of Shakespeare’s story freed Maillot to create an original perspective told through a series of flashbacks. Stripping away the flowery balconies into a streamlined stage design that speaks to the heart, the only accessories required by the choreographer are own emotional responses and the memory of our first loves.

For Maillot, Romeo is a young irresponsible and disoriented when he stumbles upon a new sweetheart who causes him to forget his past conquests, while Juliet has fallen in love for the very first time. The feelings she experiences are powerful enough to elevate Romeo to the status of an embodiment of love rather than merely a lover. Absolute love in contrast to which everything else pales into insignificance.

About Jean-Christopher Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet

With Romeo and Juliet, Jean-Christophe Maillot took a choreographic approach that avoids paraphrasing Shakespeare’s literary masterpiece that speaks for itself. Rather than retrace the rift between the Capulets and Montagues to its tragic denouement, the choreographer rewrites the play from an original perspective.

The action plunges the audience into the depths of Friar Laurence’s soul, a man whose good intentions ultimately provoke the demise of the two lovers. The story is told through the flashbacks experienced by this distraught man of the cloth as he reflects on just how this tragic end came to be.

This founding concept offers substantial insight into the choreographer’s sensitivity, interpreting Romeo and Juliet not as a social conflict or clan warfare governed by a strict code of honor, but to the contrary, as a tale of accidental tragedy that leads to the death of two young people more concerned with the path of love than that of hatred.

Here, the Capulets and Montagues are very similar, all of them sixteen and overflowing with emotion, taunting each other in the street more out of fun than a desire to cause intentional harm. Their fights are never truly violent, but are mere scuffles that allow them to create a sense of identity forged by the rivalries between two gangs – rivalries that nobody takes seriously, not even the hot-headed Mercutio and Tybalt.

One day, their fun and games take a turn for the worse. A mortal blow is struck, catapulting the protagonists into a spiral of violence. These protagonists are children before they are murderers, kids who Maillot portrays as acting out of love, impulsively and without fear of any consequences.

This loss of reason inspired Jean-Christophe Maillot to create choreography that disrupts the traditional customs and rules of classical dance while retaining all of its momentum, energy and timeless elegance. This thought process behind Romeo and Juliet is a cornerstone in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s repertoire, in which classical vocabulary is paired with contemporary syntax at the crossroads of multiple artistic fields.

The syntax at the heart of Romeo and Juliet is clearly cinematographic. The ballet borrows a number of techniques from film and cinema, from flashbacks that draw us into Friar Laurence’s introspection to stills and slow motion. The performance is never displayed head-on, the dancers move along imaginary diagonal lines and never face the audience directly – just as an actor never looks into the camera.

Each dancer in the corps de ballet has their own (secondary) role and can showcase their individuality through actions unique to them. The main roles are danced by ballerinas, prompting Jean-Christophe Maillot to describe his Romeo and Juliet as a ballet of women. Juliet, Lady Capulet, Rosaline, the Nurse: these women are close to each other yet separate entities as symbolised by their dances and maturity. In contrast, the fathers are practically absent in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s choreographic rewriting of the play, and the Prince Escalus disappears altogether. Better still, when he put together his first version of the ballet in 1986 in Tours (with contemporary music by Michel Beuret), the choreographer entitled his piece Juliet and Romeo, and clearly stated that in this story, women hold the starring roles.

This narrative that forms the backbone of his ballet is rendered comprehensible by Jean-Christophe Maillot thanks to a streamlined stage design created by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, who stripped the dance of superfluous accessories. Gone are the phials, poison, knives and flowery balconies that could so easily turn Romeo and Juliet into a cloak and dagger saga. The only accessories required by the choreographer are our emotional responses, our passion, the heady memory of our first loves and a lovely little group of puppets.

The critics rave.

“A piece of flawless beauty. A spectacular company.” — Lenouelobs.com

“The dancers of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo are a very distinctive bunch. They move with sleek refinement, beautifully honing the shape of their dancing, yet they also underpin their high elegance with a high-intensity muscularity … Maillot’s choreography hurtles the story along with incredible pace.” — The Times

Romeo and Juliet succeeds both in its modernity and originality which respecting the origins and tradition of its subject. It is a youthful, energic version.” — Dancing Times

History of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo

The anchoring of dance in Monaco: Russian Ballet 1909 marked the beginning of a strong presence of choreographic art in Monaco. Serge de Diaghilev presents his Russian Ballet in Paris for the first time. They set up in Monte-Carlo which becomes their creative workshop for the next two decades. Since the Principality, Diaghilev has reformed ballet in his time in all its forms. Upon his death in 1929, the company was dissolved. Several personalities and choreographers revived it under various names but it disappeared completely in 1951.

The birth of the current Monte-Carlo Ballet Company In 1985, the Monte-Carlo Ballet Company was born thanks to the want of H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover, who wanted to enroll in this dance tradition in Monaco. The new company was directed by Ghislaine Thesmar and Pierre Lacotte, then by Jean-Yves Esquerre.

The rapid expansion In 1993, H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover nominates Jean-Christophe Maillot as the head of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Backed by experience as a dancer from Rosella Hightower and John Neumeier, and choreographer-director of the National Choreographic Centre of Tours, Maillot takes his turn in the company. He creates more than 30 ballets for her, including several which enter the repertoire of large international companies. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo are now in demand throughout the world thanks to the iconic works of Jean-Christophe Maillot such as Vers un pays sage (1995), Roméo et Juliette (1996), Cendrillon (1999) La Belle (2001), Le Songe (2005), Altro Canto (2006), Faust (2007) and LAC (2011).

Furthermore, Jean-Christophe Maillot also enriches the company’s repertoire by inviting the major choreographers of our time but also enabling emerging choreographers to work with this exceptional tool, which are the 50 dancers of the Monte-Carlo Ballets. Among these guest choreographers are Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Shen Wei, Alonzo King, Emio Greco, Chris Haring, Marco Goecke, Lucinda Childs, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Karole Armitage, Maurice Béjart and even Marie Chouinard.

On tour for over 200 days a year, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo is a major culture ambassador for the Principality.

In 2000, Jean-Christophe creates the Monaco Dance Forum, international window to dance that presents an eclectic fusion of spectacles, exhibitions, workshops and conferences. The company regularly participates in this festival and the Académie de danse Princesse Grace.

In 2009, the Princess Grace Academy, founded in 1975, redefined its objectives and made the professionalisation of each of its students its primary purpose. It is now responsible for maintaining the excellence of classical instruction while remaining open to the influences of modern-day dance.

In 2011, under the presidency of H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo Company, the Monaco Dance Forum and the Princess Grace Academy of Dance were incorporated under a single organization, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, directed by Jean-Christophe Maillot.

About Jean-Christophe Maillot

Rosella Hightower liked to say of her student Jean-Christophe Maillot, that his life was just a union of opposites. In fact, for the current Choreographer-Director of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, dance combines with theatre, enters the ring under a big top, evolves into the arena of visual arts, is fuelled by the most diverse scores and explores different forms of literature… His repertoire draws from the world of art in the broadest sense and each ballet is a sketch book which feeds the following work. Thus, over 30 years, Jean-Christophe Maillot has created an ensemble of sixty pieces ranging from great narrative ballets to shorter formats, and where multiple connections reflect a work which forms part of the history and diversity. Neither classical nor contemporary, not even between the two, Jean-Christophe Maillot refuses to adhere to one style and designs dance like a dialogue where tradition on pointes and the avant-garde are no longer mutually exclusive.

Born in 1960, Jean-Christophe Maillot studied dance and piano at the Conservatoire National de Région de Tours, before joining the Rosella Hightower International School of Dance in Cannes until winning the Prix de Lausanne in 1977. He was then hired by John Neumeier at the Hamburg Ballet, where he danced in principal roles as a soloist for five years. An accident brought his dancing career to an abrupt end.

In 1983, he was appointed choreographer and director of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Tours, which later became a National Centre of Choreography. He created around twenty ballets for this company and in 1985, founded the Dance Festival, «Le Chorégraphique». In 1987, he created Le Mandarin Merveilleux for the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, which was a great success. He became the company’s Artistic Advisor for the 1992-1993 season and was then appointed Director-Choreographer by H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover in September 1993.

His arrival at the Ballets de Monte-Carlo set the company on a new path that quickly developed the level of maturity and excellence for which this company of 50 dancers has been renowned. He has created almost 40 ballets for the company, some of which, such as Vers un pays sage (1995), Romeo and Juliet (1996), Cinderella (1999) La Belle (2001), Le Songe (2005), Altro Canto (2006), Faust (2007), LAC (2011), CHORE (2013) and Casse-Noisette Compagnie (2013) have forged the reputation of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo across the world. Several of his works are now included in the repertoires of major international ballet companies, such as the Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Korean National Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and the Béjart Ballet Lausanne. In 2014, he creates La Mégère Apprivoisée for the Ballet of Bolshoi Theatre.

Also aware of the work of other artists, Jean-Christophe Maillot is known for his spirit of openness and his commitment to inviting choreographers with a different style to create for the company. In 2000, this same desire to present the choreographic art in all its many forms led him to create the Monaco Dance Forum, an international showcase for dance which presents an eclectic proliferation of shows, exhibitions, workshops and conferences.

In 2007, he produced his first stage opera, Faust for the Hessisches Staatstheater and in 2009 Norma for the Monte-Carlo Opera. In 2007, he created his first choreographic film with Cinderella then Le Songe in 2008. In 2009, he developed the content and coordinated the Centenary of the Ballets Russes in Monaco, which would see over 50 companies and choreographers pass through the Principality in one year, providing entertainment for 60,000 audience members. In 2011, dance in Monaco underwent a major and historical change. Under the presidency of H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo now incorporates the Ballets de Monte-Carlo Company, the Monaco Dance Forum and the Princess Grace Academy under a single organisation. Jean-Christophe Maillot was appointed head of this organisation which now unites the excellence of an international company, the benefits of a multi-format festival and the potential of a high-level school.

Jean-Christophe Maillot is an Commander in the Ordre du Mérite Culturel of the Principality of Monaco, Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres and Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in France. On 17th November 2005, he was appointed Chevalier of the Ordre de Saint Charles by H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. In 2008, in Moscow, he received the Prix Benois de la Danse for the Best Choreographer (Faust) and the «Premio Dansa Valencia 2010». En 2015, he won with La Mégère Apprivoisée three Golden Mask including best performance.

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo presents ROMEO ET JULIETTE
Choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot

Friday, April 15 at 7:30pm
Saturday, April 16 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Sunday, April 17 at 1:00 pm

Segerstrom Center the Arts
Segerstrom Hall

This article was released by the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.