The Joyce invites you to dnhance and expand your experience of the performances with “Dance Talks Notes,” impressions by experts in the field. You’ll find these informative text here at Joyce.org and in our theater lobby. This week we bring you Mindy Aloff’s impressions on Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, which will be making its debut at The Joyce Theater February 15 through 19, is a company based in the principality of Monaco, which, along with the port of Genoa, has been associated with the rule of the Grimaldi family going back to the early 1300s. (In recent times, a diplomatic agreement was struck that, should the reigning member of the Grimaldis not produce an heir to the throne, the principality will revert to France.)
Les Ballets isn’t quite that old, however. Although Monaco, with its historic buildings, beautiful views of the Mediterranean (captured in the ballet movie The Red Shoes), and glittering casino, is famous as a center of hi-hat nightlife and served as a hot spot for ballet for much of the 20th century, this particular company was founded in 1985 by H.R.H. The Princess of Hanover, Princess Caroline. In founding Les Ballets (and serving as its first president), she was following the wishes of her late mother, Princess Grace, a devotee of the arts, who, in the 1970s, wanted to establish a classical ballet company in Monaco and requested that George Balanchine serve as her consultant—a dream that was brought to an end by the princess’s untimely death in a car accident in 1982.
The original co-directors of Les Ballets in 1985 were the husband-and-wife team Ghislaine Thesmar and Pierre Lacotte, formerly star dancers of the Paris Opéra Ballet, where Lacotte also served as a choreographer and reconstructor of 19th-century classics. This first company of 50 dancers performed in the tiny jewel of a venue the Salle Garnier of the Monte Carlo Opera; however, from the beginning, this was primarily a touring company—and continues to be. Thesmar and Lacotte left in 1988, and Jean Yves Esquerre—a veteran dancer with companies headed by Maurice Béjart, Jíri Kylián, and William Forsythe, who was then teaching at Les Ballets—took over as artistic director.
He expanded the repertory to include ballets by Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Roland Petit, and other choreographers of significance and brought in new young choreographers to make ballets. Esquerre left in 1992, the year that dancer and choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot (b. 1960) joined the company as an artistic advisor. In the fall of 1993, Maillot was royally appointed as Les Ballets’s director-choreographer. In 1997, he oversaw the removal of the company from its home in the tiny Salle Garnier to its own dance center, L’Atelier. In 2000, Les Ballets gave its first performance on the big stage of the Salle des Princes, in the new Monaco congress center, the Grimaldi Forum, where, when the company isn’t touring internationally, it performs today.
Maillot, who has choreographed over two dozen ballets for Les Ballets, continued to expand the repertory with historic works and reconstructions (such as the reconstruction, by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer, of Balanchine’s ballet of 1925 for Diaghilev Le Rossignol) and with works by other contemporary choreographers, such as Forsythe, Kevin O’Day, and Carolyn Carlson, whose company collaborated with the horse whisperer-choreographer Bartabas and 32 steeds from the Académie de Versailles on a spectacle entitled We Were Horses.
Among Maillot’s own choreographies for his company are his 1996 evening-length Roméo et Juliette, featuring a prominent role for Friar Laurence (who enjoys duets with Juliette in both her bedroom and the crypt), and Maillot’s personal reconsiderations of The Sleeping Beauty (“La Belle”) and Cinderella, in which metaphors such as Aurora having been reared in a protective bubble are literally realized. (Roméo et Juliette was danced by Les Ballets at City Center in 1999 and has been acquired for the repertory of Pacific Northwest Ballet, in Seattle.)
Maillot has also choreographed many works without a stated narrative, such as his version of Hindemith’s score The Four Temperaments, which Les Ballets performed at City Center in 1996 during its first visit to New York, on a program that also provocatively included the company dancing its own production of Balanchine’s masterpiece, whose staging for Les Ballets had been overseen by Patricia Neary.
This appearance by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo at The Joyce is the company’s forth visit to New York. Previously, it appeared here in 1996, 1999, and 2003. Maillot’s choreography might also be familiar to New York dance-goers from In Vole (“In Flight”), the 1997 duet he made for ABT’s Alessandra Ferri and Ethan Stiefel, and from his Casse Noisette Circus for Les Ballets, televised by Ovation TV in 2009 as part of the “Battle of the Nutcrackers.” And, if you attend programs by the New York International Ballet Competition, which takes place every three years, you may have glimpsed Maillot himself, who has served as one of the judges for it.
The Joyce program comprises two story-less ballets, both by Maillot. Altro Canto I, with a set by Rolf Sachs and costumes by the couturier Karl Lagerfeld, is choreographed to musical selections by three 17th-century Baroque composers—Claudio Monteverdi (excerpts from his Magnificat, vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610), Biagio Marini (a virtuoso violinist who greatly expanded the instrument’s technical armamentarium and whose compositions—fewer than 20 of which survive—also were experimental, such as his sonata constructed without a cadence), and Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, a German composer for the lute and the chitarrone (an instrument closely related to the Baroque theorbo).
Maillot’s second ballet, Opus 40—his fortieth work and made to mark his fortieth birthday—has sets and costumes by the New Hampshire native and practitioner of “Artificial Realism” the painter, sculptor, and print-maker George Condo and is choreographed to selections by Meredith Monk from her vocal works Turtle Dreams, Dolmen Music, Do You Be, and Volcano Songs and from her film Book of Days.
Mindy Aloff is an editor, journalist, essayist, and dance critic. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Nation, The New Republic, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Threepenny Review, and many other periodicals. Since 2000, she has taught as an adjunct member of the dance faculty at Barnard College. She is a Fellow of the Guggenheim and Woodrow Wilson foundations and received the Whiting Writers Award in 1987.