110 years after Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes’ inaugural performance in Paris (1909) and, a few seasons later, the sensational première of Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (1913), a ballet deemed scandalously provocative by the Parisian cultural elite of the time but which proved to be a decisive game changer, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo take residence at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées with a thematic programme revisiting the iconic dancer’s most illustrious roles.

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Verbruggen's Faun
© Alice Blangero

Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Daphnis et Chloé opens the tribute, the director’s polished neoclassical aesthetics mirrored from the start in Ernest Pigon-Ernest’s streamlined designs. These evolve as the desire emanating from Daphnis’ (Simone Tribuna) and Chloé’s (Anjara Ballesteros) bodies develops, with crayon-like sketches of a nude body forming and disappearing on the white set as the dancers flirt with each other. Initially tentative, then pulsing, developing progressively into a more daring courtship, their pas de deux is first and foremost concerned with the exploration of desire. Both dancers make one with this, and they convince in their teenage-like exploration of each other’s body. In Maillot’s interpretation of the Greek myth, Dorcon (Matèj Urban) and Lycénion (Marianna Barabás) join the young lovers in what becomes a consuming pas de quatre which effectively reflects the multi-faceted relationships between the four characters. Marianna Barabás’ expressive beauty and radiant sensuality shine luminously over the quartet.

Building on from Maillot’s exploration of erotic desires, choreographer Jeroen Verbruggen (who was an accomplished dancer of the troupe for ten years) takes on the momentous challenge of presenting a new Faun, though he deliberately chose not to recycle the original title L’Après-midi d’un faune, anchoring his creation in Mallarmé’s reflective poem instead. Aimai-je un rêve? (2018) is an enigmatic duet for man and faun in which bestiality and tenderness confront, disrupt, but also complete each other. The physicality of the choreography is at times overt, forceful and challenging, the faun consuming, and man’s vulnerability exposed, yet there’s an interesting equilibrium of forces at play. Man challenges faun just as much as faun lures man, and it’s less the faun’s hybridity and more the contrasting emotions at play that make this interpretation a fresh success. Claude Debussy’s emblematic original score reaches new heights as it reverberates through the sublime interpretations of Alexis Oliveira (the Faun) and Benjamin Stone (the Man).

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Goecke's Le Spectre de la rose
© Alice Blangero

In contrast, Marco Goecke’s take on Le Spectre de la rose (2009) wasn’t convincing. Clad in wider-than-wide black trousers and a flesh skin-tight top, a beautiful Anissa Bruley gesticulates her arms and torso frantically on stage, supported by six equally disarticulated men dressed in rose red trouser suits, glimpses of chiselled torsos appearing and disappearing through the opened jackets. Daniele Delvecchio, embodying the rose, completed the tableau. Whilst the sleek aesthetics intrigue at first, the choreography felt both superficial and disconnected, most of the time, from the music. I didn’t sense the yearning of the young girl thinking of the rose, nor the dream like evocation of the original ballet. The intrigue felt lost. Thankfully, Carl Maria Von Weber’s L’Invitation à la danse and Le maître des esprits were sublimely interpreted by l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, under Kazuki Yamada’s baton, and the lyrical experience compensated in part for the lack of emotion on stage. I’ll remember nonetheless a beautiful image, that of the rose petals scattered across the stage (à la Bausch) responding to the orchestra’s invitation to dance with their own valse on the stage, which was the only poetic moment that truly paid homage to the original ballet.

Johan Inger’s fantastic Petrouchka (2010) ends the programme on a high note. Intelligent designs, bright choreography, effective storytelling and an all-round excellent performance by a brilliant cast bring Petrouchka’s touching tale into our contemporary beauty, youth and fashion obsessed world. Stravinsky’s multi-layered score sublimely supports this original interpretation.

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Inger's Petrouchka
© Alice Blangero

As well as keeping the musical, choreographic and theatrical treasures of the Ballets Russes alive, En compagnie de Nijinsky reignites the company’s avant garde-ist vision. It’s also a rare opportunity to see Jean Christophe Maillot’s world class troupe of dancers, as well as the excellent Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo.