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Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo's La BelleJean-Christophe Maillot


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#1 volcanohunter

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Posted 06 June 2007 - 07:19 PM

On Wednesday, June 6, France 2 evening news ended its broadcast with a story on Jean-Christophe Maillot's unconventional take on The Sleeping Beauty, titled La Belle. Skip ahead to the last report of the broadcast.
http://jt.france2.fr/20h

#2 bart

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Posted 27 June 2007 - 06:45 AM

I saw this a couple of weeks ago during the company's run at the Theatre du Chatelet. I have been curious about Maillot's "take" on the classics, after reading a bit about his productions, and especially after vissi d'arte's enthusiastic response to the Royal Swedish Ballet's version of Maillot's Cendrillon. (See: http://ballettalk.in...howtopic=24904)

I don't feel capable of producing a review of the Paris production, but here are some thoughts:

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The story: Maillot's version involves a serious reworking of the plot and themes. The (expensive) program contains pages and pages of wordy and self-important explication of what the choreographer intended, why he changed so many plot elements, what the extensive symbolism means. This is the kind of program-writing that tellls us exactly what we are expected to see and what we are expected to feel. Some of this was actually clear on stage. But an awful lot was inpenetrable unless you had read the notes.

The key elements of change included putting the Prince at the center of things. A rather confused and moody young man when we first see him, he is victimized by his brutal harridan of a mother (danced by the same male dancer who also performed Carabosse). The intensity of her rage is never explained. Nor does it ever seemed plausible. A rather sweet, ineffectual, even Christ-like King was there for balance. Their court (described pretentiously as "le univers du Prince") is dressed in black. The dancing (rather unevenly performed by the corps) was intense, brutal, abrupt. You get the point.

La Belle's court ("le univers de la Belle"), on the other hand, is sweet and dressed in white. The ladies have clear, transparent balloons on their bellies, suggesting fertility or ... something. In a truly striking image, La Belle's "birth" is expressed by her entry on stage, walking on pointe, entirely encased in a huge transparent bubble (descirbed in the program notes as a "Boulle Protectrice". It's lovely and mysterious. Her innocence and vulnerability are expressed in visual and chroeographic terms. No words needed. Quite nice.

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The dancers: The Queen/Carabosse was danced by Jerome Marchand. He's a powerful, intensely charismatic character dancer with huge, stage-filling technique. Despite the foolishness of the story and the one-dimensionality of the character as defined by Maillot, Marchand's was one of the best Carabosse's I've ever seen. He steals the show.

Bernice Coppieters was La Belle. A tall, willowly, physically beautiful woman. Wonderful as the innocent and as the victim. Not so interesting as the lover in Act III.

the Prince, Chris Roelandt, had a difficult part to play. He's not a very interesting dancer or actor, so there was always a tiny vacume on the stage when he was given serious dancing/acting to do. Paola Cantalup's Lilac Fairy was similarly underpowered, which made her slightly re-written function in the ballet even harder to understand.

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The Travesty of Maillot's Act III: One of Maillot's weaknesses as a choreographer and director is in his use of music. The dancers always seem to skim the surface of the music, never immersing themselves in it. There's an arbitrariness about Maillot's steps as they relate to the music. An example: because La Belle is the victim of serious physical and emotional abuse at one point in the ballet, Maillot's choreography suggests Rite of Spring. (He refers to this in his notes.) But the music is some of Tchaikowsky's loveliest. The random movements of the corps throughout was only superficially related to the music, responding at best to changes in tempo, loudness, and other obvious qualities, but nothing deeper.

Maillot's world view at the start of the ballet is based on a kind of black-and-white disfunctionalitiy. What does this imply for Act III? Petipa's Act III involves a re-establishment of balance and order. But if you don't have balance and order to begin with, you can't re-establish it. So Maillot's Act III is the most drastically (and, I think, disastrously) rewritten portion of the ballet.

Starting with the music. There's no room for fairytale variations, so the entire Act III score is trashed and replaced with a completely different example of Tchaikowsky: the overwrought Fantasy Overture to Romeo and Juliet. It's an over-familiar and rather vulgar choice, bearing little or no relation to the style of the actual Sleeping Beauty score. Oddly, the choreography does not even attempt to reach the emotionality of the music. Nor are Coppetiers and Roelandt sufficiently emotional dancers to respond to all those big, gorgeous chords swelling around them.

At the end, the lovers apparently decide it's best just to leave the twisted universes in which they live. They depart -- rather anticlimactically -- through a kind of hole in the wall.

On to better things, one presumes.

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Did I enjoy it? yes.

Was I deeply moved by it? No.

Did the Paris audience give it a big hand? Yes.

Did anything linger in the heart and mind after we all went home? I'd be surprised if it did.


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