Along the French Riviera, the city of Monte-Carlo in Monaco is known for extravagance, Formula 1 race cars, casinos, resort beaches and the arts. Since the 1900’s, Monte-Carlo has had a significant tradition in the ballet world with not only the Ballet Russes de Monte-Carlo, but this city also boasts the biggest names from the past such as Serge Diaghilev, Léonide Massine, Rosella Hightower, Alicia Markova, Maria Tallchief and George Balanchine. Ballet’s importance in Monaco has had the support of the royal family through the years with Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Hollywood movie star Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly. The new royal generation, Princess Caroline the Princess of Hanover, established the Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 1985. In 1993, Princess Caroline entrusted the role of Artistic Director to Jean-Christophe Maillot, and now for almost 30 years, he has innovated classical repertoire, built an international highly recognized company, and envisioned traditional ballet’s progression into the future. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s Jean-Christophe Maillot’s own journey expanded the evolution of classical ballet. Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet will be appearing at the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center April 15-17, 2022. Tickets are on sale now.
Mr. Maillot comes across as a forward-thinking director and choreographer who graciously took the time to converse via phone from Monte-Carlo. French born Jean-Christophe recalls, “A vivid memory for me was that my father was a set designer and so my life as a child was constantly surrounded by the arts,” he continues, “I was infused with music, dance and artwork.” His upbringing started the framework of his artistic aspirations. His experiences were then encouraged by his mentor and ballet instructor Rosella Hightower, who is renown as one of the four major Native American ballerinas, born in Oklahoma of the Choctaw Nation and paradoxically danced with Ballet Russes de Monte-Carlo, among others. Jean-Christophe reveals, “I studied with Rosella Hightower in Cannes, she believed that it wasn’t how you looked but how much you wanted to dance.” He continued, “How much you want to dance is everything, she had me take all forms of dance including Spanish dance, mime and introduced me to Martha Graham’s work. Martha Graham gave me a new perspective and I was fascinated with all forms of dance.” In our discussion about his childhood favorites, Mr. Maillot announces, “As a child in the 70’s, my favorite choreographers were Béjart and Balanchine.” He talked about George Balanchine’s expertise at highlighting the dancer’s body, while Maurice Béjart gave men a strong image on stage.
We then talked about John Neumeier. “Is John Neumeier your mentor?” I asked. Jean-Christophe proclaims, “He is more than a mentor, he is in my DNA!” John Neumeier is an American born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For the last 49 years, however, he has been the artistic director and lead choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet in Germany. Mr. Maillot began his professional career, after winning the Prix de Lausanne International competition, it was there that Mr. Neumeier invited him to join the Hamburg Ballet. He continued to relay that John was more than an influence, he is “instilled” in his DNA. Jean- Christopher describes Mr. Neumeier’s profound use of dance performance and his capacity to narrate an “abstract ballet.” As fate would have it, Jean-Christophe’s physical movement at the Hamburg Ballet took an abrupt turn early on. Jean- Christophe recalls, “There I was about to perform in the premier of John Neumeier’s title role of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and the night of the dress rehearsal I broke by knee on stage. I was 18, no 19 years old. So, after my knee was recovering, after months, I was put in a ballet with choreographer Murray Louis.” Mr. Maillot realized that his life was wrapped around classical ballet and for years he felt so strict about being traditional. It wasn’t till Mr. Louis’s modern piece that he realized the movement did not require him to fully “stretch” his leg. His body didn’t have to hit a specific line. That his movement could “be free.”
In Jean-Christophe Maillot’s heart perhaps Romeo never left? Since his first full length ballet he created was Romeo and Juliet and has become a signature of his work. He created it on Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and describes his play as, “A new vision of classical ballet and artistry that links acting to dance.” His Romeo and Juliet has been lent and performed by many ballet companies including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Pittsburg Ballet Theatre, and Les Grands Ballet Canadiens among many others. As a director he hires other superb choreographers for the organization in Monte Carlo. When asked what inspires him, he remarks, “There are about twenty-two different nationalities in the company, American, Chinese, Spanish, Russians and so on and they are so motivated to speak my language. As a choreographer I speak through them.” He continues, “Through the dancer, music, set, ballet is an art form where the other art forms emerge, a sharing moment.” Jean-Christophe Maillot speaks of unity, contribution and connecting with the artists he works with which includes set designers and composers. He loves music so much that if dance wouldn’t have been in his life, he would have wanted to be a director of music. “Music is the supreme art form,” he projects.
In getting to know Mr. Maillot it is apparent he loves life, and all the arts have to offer. When asked what he enjoyed doing in his free time he said, “Good food, I love good food.” Remarking that his favorite food is fromage (cheese), bread and ham with a glass of wine. His favorite scent is the basilic (basil) plant. He is a big movie buff and enjoys every kind of American movie; adventure, comedy, and musicals, he declares, “My favorite movie is the original West Side Story.” When asked about the current conflict in Ukraine and his ballet, “Taming of the Shrew,” that he created for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, Russia he commented, “I asked them to cease production, but they have not respected my wishes.” He concluded, “Since, I cannot stop them from doing my ballet, my royalties from the Russian Ballet are going to the Red Cross to help the Ukrainian people.” In seeing the future with youthful eyes, he proclaims, “The youth can save us…The youth should be listened to, we cannot ignore them.” Not only is Jean-Christophe surrounded by a youthful company and many hired workers, but he is also the father of three and grandfather of two. It seems he has stayed youthful, so that his work is constantly moving forward toward innovation and advancement.
The classics of yesterday in Hollywood, Broadway and beyond tend to be re-imagined and brought into new thoughts or ideas. The same is happening to ballet, which perhaps offers a greater appeal to those who long to see progressive visions. What an opportunity to see this award-winning choreographer highlight in California. This Easter holiday weekend, Jean- Christophe Maillot and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo will be in Costa Mesa displaying their chef-d’oeuvre Romeo and Juliet at the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center. There will be four performances starting Friday, April 15th, 2022.
To learn more about Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, please visit their website.
To purchase tickets to the performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet, please click HERE.
To learn what else is appearing the the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center, please visit their website.
Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.
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Featured image: Les Ballets de Monte Carlo – Romeo and Juliet – Photo © Alice Blangero