Although it’s the world's second-smallest country, the tiny principality of Monaco will have a big presence in New Orleans on Saturday when Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo mounts the stage of the Mahalia Jackson Theater with 36 dancers in “Romeo et Juliette.”
Named for the Monacan district from which it hails, the company will be making its first appearance in New Orleans since 2005. Headed, since 1985, by world-renowned choreographer and director Jean-Christophe Maillot, Le Ballets de Monte-Carlo has performed the piece more than 260 times since it premiered 20 years ago.
“Romeo et Juliette” is presented by the New Orleans Ballet Association. The basic storyline of the work holds true to the Shakespearean romantic tragedy, but the perspective is shifted from the two lovers to the priest who married them, according to Maillot.
“Friar Laurence is the key figure in this ballet,” Maillot said. “I wanted to tell Romeo and Juliette’s story through his eyes. My ballet is very cinematographic. It can be seen as a long flashback for this man who tried to reconcile their families (the Montagues and the Capulets), but who, in the end precipitated the two lovers’ deaths.”
In addition to the three main characters, the piece will feature dancers in the supporting roles of Mercutio, Tybalt, Benvolio and Rosalind, plus an ensemble. In keeping with company policy, according to Maillot, the cast with principal dancers is decided the day of the performance.
“Romeo et Juliette” doesn't fit neatly into one style of dance. As Maillot explained, “I’ve always avoided being labelled ‘classical’ or ‘contemporary.’
“This kind of dualism has placed pointe-shoe ballet and avant-garde dance back to back,” he said. “I use each one to sustain the other and am unable to say how this plays. I will obviously use both but not in combination. One feeds the other.”
Capulets and Montagues will be distinguished by their costumes: One will wear black and the other white, Maillot explained. Friar Laurence, he noted, “is the only one to wear both colors since he feels he can link the two families and reconcile them. I’m always concerned with proposing a narrative that serves the dancing, resorting as little as possible to accessories.”
Dance demands a range of ability, the director noted.
“Movement ranges from the toes to the hands via facial expression," he said. "Being a good technician is not enough; you must be a good actor, too.”
As the creator of more than 80 ballets, several of which are based on such familiar stories as “Cinderella” and “Faust,” Maillot has a special affinity for the works of Shakespeare. “He is a writer of love stories par excellence,” he said. “As a choreographer with a predilection for pas de deux, I find him an inexhaustible source of inspiration.”
“NOBA is honored to bring Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo back to New Orleans for the first time since February 2005 to celebrate New Orleans’ Tricentennial,” said NOBA executive director Jenny Hamilton in a statement. “The company’s innovative staging of this timeless masterpiece is guaranteed to be the pinnacle moment of Monaco’s visit to our great city.
“Jean-Christophe Maillot expertly tells this Shakespearean masterpiece through a unique and daring perspective,” Hamilton added. “Along with spectacular sets and costumes, the result is a profoundly dramatic and visually brilliant production that has gained accolades from critics and audiences alike around the world. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo showcases NOBA’s dedication to bringing some of the best companies and artists to the region.”
"Romeo et Juliette"
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. 1419 Basin Street (Louis Armstrong Park), New Orleans