Choreographers can’t stay away from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet score; new ballet versions of Shakespeare’s tragic lovers appear with regularity. Mavens can bounce between two radically different versions this week: as ABT winds up its run of Kenneth Macmillan’s familiar production, with its harlots and hordes of sparring townsfolk, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo arrives at City Center with Jean-Christophe Maillot’s 1996 interpretation.
In contrast to the spectacle and grandeur on view at the Met, Maillot’s sleeker Romeo et Juliette zeroes in on the intense, turbulent emotional connection between the young lovers. “I’m trying to renew the codes of this kind of traditional ballet by making some subtle but radical changes,” explained the French choreographer during a recent New York stay. “Is it possible to use the technique without turning it into a demonstration? Is it possible to ask a dancer to perform codified steps but not to show them as steps? When the balcony pas de deux ends, I would like people not to remember any steps. I hope you remember that they’re in love and you are touched by that. So my work was very interesting: how can I disappear choreographically?”
Among Maillot’s innovations are an expanded role for Friar Lawrence, whose agonized recollections play as a series of flashbacks, and having Lady Capulet performed by a dancer of the same age as the one playing her daughter. Sliding panels provide the spare setting and make for swift, even overlapping, scene changes. “My intention was to purify, also with the set.”
Like all company directors, Maillot faces pressure to pro duce full-length narrative works that tend to guarantee full houses. He welcomes this as a challenge, an opportunity to broaden audience horizons as well. “It’s a kind of mission for me, to see if it is possible to make a work that has the ambition to be more original, to search for something new in this kind of situation, to use the fact that people come and bring them to be more curious, a little bit more open.”