Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo are paying a brief visit to Madrid where they present a staple piece in their repertory, Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot, the Artistic Director of the company since 1993. The production is now twenty years old but it still looks fresh and new, with a distinctive visual look and graceful, expressive choreography. It was vividly enacted in Madrid for an audience that welcomed it with enthusiasm.

© Alice Blangero
© Alice Blangero

Maillot conceives the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet as a recollection of events in the tormented mind of Friar Lawrence. This character opens the action in an introductory number that exposes the despair brought to his soul by the turbulent story and its fated end. The story then progresses in chronological order, with the figure of the Friar reappearing on stage at the most important junctures of the story, as if he is trying to find out when, why and what went wrong for such terrible events to happen. This conception of the story reconfigures the use of the music which Sergei Prokofiev wrote for Leonid Lavrovsky in Soviet Russia and which is now the score most frequently used in the dance productions of the story. For his version, Maillot exploits the richness of Prokofiev’s multi-layered music but do not fully follow the libretto carefully drafted by the composer.

© Alice Blangero
© Alice Blangero
Maillot’s arrangement of the score to a different set of events is brilliant. The action on stage matches so perfectly the nuances expressed by the music that the traditional script is never missed.

The choreography is a superb achievement of clarity. In a neoclassical dance vocabulary that smoothly evolves into contemporary as the tragedy advances, the action unfolds neatly. Throughout the production the dance preserves graceful lines and limpid movements, which are particularly stressed by the sparse, elegant set and costume designs by Ernest Pignon-Ernest and Jérôme Kaplan. The absence of props or architectural elements on stage, with just a set of ramps and movable screens in white, emphasizes the expressivity of the dancing bodies, elegantly dressed in a tonal range of black, silver, ochre and gold. The kinetic imagery of the ballet is full of inventive, effective findings, of which those related to the arms and hands are particularly inspired. One of the most powerful moments in the choreography is the slow-motion fight that ends with the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio. The kinetic halt is danced to the frenetic and heavily orchestrated notes in the score, resulting in a kinetic/aural contrast that exposes the brutality and fatality of the story with a mighty dramatic force.

© Alice Blangero
© Alice Blangero

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s dancers offered gleaming performances in Madrid. Anna Blackwell portrayed a confident, passionate Juliet; Lucien Postlewaite was a devoted friend and charming lover as Romeo; Alexis Oliveira gave an imposing, elegiac presence to Friar Lawrence; George Oliveira’s Mercutio was youthful, lively and bright; Alvaro Prieto Hidalgo’s Tybalt was a vain, violent adolescent; Maude Sabourin played the only humorous role of the ballet, the Nurse who provides comic relief to the story and warm affection to Juliet’s worries; and Mimoza Koike opted for a Lady Capulet who coats her deep grief with composure and nobility. The whole cast exhibited a refined, polished technique that testifies of the Monte Carlo troupe is in excellent shape.