On the terraces of the Casino – 18 July – 2 August 2008

Following a busy year of international touring, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo went outdoors for their summer season performing on the Terraces of the Casino. With the ornate exterior walls of Charles Garnier’s Opera House behind the audience it seemed a missed opportunity not to use the natural backdrop of the Mediterranean for the stage, but no doubt technical practicalities and the fear of distracting the audience meant that a traditional ‘black box’ formed the setting for the three programmes which were performed. The now defunct Monaco Dance Forum (an initiative of the BMC’s director, Jean-Christophe Maillot) brought several emerging young choreographers to prominence, notably awarding the Nijinsky Prize in 2004 to Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and in 2006, to Marco Goecke, now resident choreographer of the Stuttgart Ballet. Goecke, who has since been choreographing extensively for companies in Germany, The Netherlands and in New York, was asked to create a new work for the Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Entitled White Out, the work is dimly backlit throughout, and finally shrouded in clouds of smoke from branches of burning incense, while the dancers are set on an endless marathon of almost dehumanised movement. They twitch and tremble, fling themselves to the floor and flail their limbs in a robotic frenzy. The accompaniment of Bob Dylan’s folksy story-telling songs raises even more queries as to the purpose of it all, but the cast and in particular, Jeroen Verbruggen, gave it their all, as did the company throughout the evening.

White Out was preceded by Walking Mad choreographed by the Swedish choreographer, Johan Inger, now director of the Cullberg Ballet. Walking Mad was created in 2001 for Nederlands Dans Theater where Inger was a dancer while choreographing several works for the company, and it is a much more interesting and theatrical work. A huge wall of wooden palings stretches the width of the stage and this is very much part of the action, moving and tipping, enclosing the dancers, while the concealed doorways provide multiple entrances and exits. It is both protective and threatening bringing the dancers to moments of great tension, some brutal encounters, some quirky and comic interludes, all performed to Ravel’s Bolero. An angst-filled centre section is well sustained by the always excellent April Ball and George Oliveira where the sound can only just be heard as of from behind the wall, but for the orgiastic climax of the music Inger slips into  cliché, reverting to an almost Chorus-Line ensemble scene with the dancers dressed in raincoats and bowler hats. It was however, an effective work and enthusiastically received. The final ballet came as something of a relief with Jean-Christophe Maillot’s 1995 ballet Vers un Pays Sage, a cool, abstract ballet using a neo-classical vocabulary and giving the dancers full opportunity to show the scope of their technical abilities. The performance also gave the chance to the British dancer, Sarah Jane Medley, to make her debut with the company in the principal role. Medley comes to Monte Carlo via the Royal Ballet School and the Royal Swedish Ballet where she first worked with Maillot when he mounted his Cinderella for the company. The ballet was danced to an interesting score by the American composer John Adams and costumed in pristine white giving Medley a good chance to show off her long, elegant legs and beautifully tuned body.

Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet was created in 1996 and received its 200th performance during the summer season having been performed throughout the world on the company’s tours, and proving to be one of their greatest successes. It has also entered the repertoire of ballet companies in Essen, Geneva, Montreal, Seattle and Seoul. As with Maillot’s productions of other narrative ballets, Cinderella, The Beauty and The Dream, Romeo and Juliet succeeds both in it’s modernity and originality while respecting the origins and tradition of its subject. Against a simple set of white panels which are moved to form the location of the different scenes, the dancers wear stylised Renaissance costumes and the ballet follows the usual story line to the Prokofiev score. It is a youthful, energetic version; the conflicts between the Capulets and the Montagues are initially low-key and almost playful as are the scenes between Juliet and the nurse. Some of the narrative gets lost in the liveliness of the choreography and some roles need stronger characterisation as repetitive signature steps are not enough. However, April Ball’s Lady Capulet is especially successful and this experienced and striking artist brings out every inch of her power and her tragedy. The Spanish dancer, Asier Uriagereka, (one time soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet) is an ardent and lovable Romeo and his scenes with Mercutio and Benvolio are excellently conceived and executed. Friar Lawrence, danced by Gaëtano Morlotti, has a more than usual involvement in the action, and seems almost to be manipulating the unfolding drama in an ambiguous and unexpected manner.

This season’s new Juliet, the Hawaiian born Noelani Pantastico, has just joined BMC from Seattle’s North West Pacific Ballet where she danced the role in Maillot’s production. It is very much Juliet’s ballet and she is ideally cast – light as a feather but unfazed by any technical demands, either in the first act, which is on pointe, or the second act, barefoot. Her Juliet is willful but vulnerable and her character deepens as the ballet evolves. The second act is generally stronger than the first with a particularly impressive slow-motion scene at the height of the battles with the ensuing deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. The love scenes also become more and more passionate and the final tomb scene is highly emotional and dramatically powerful.

The season was completed by a Double Bill of Maillot’s 2006 work Alto Canto, an eloquent and inventive ballet to a Monteverdi score and a new Alto Canto Part 11, using music by the choreographer’s brother, Bertrand Maillot. The whole season found the company in top form and I continue to be impressed by the homogeneity which allows principals to take their place in the corps when needed as well as the total commitment to their work by every member.