Les Ballets de Monte Carlo brings Jean-Christophe Maillot’s world-renowned choreography of Romeo et Juliette to Dubai

Ahead of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo's debut performance in the Middle East, we look at how Monaco, the second smallest country in the world, helped rewrite the rulebook on modern ballet.

Anja Berhend and Stephan Bourgond of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo perform Romeo et Juliette. Alice Blangero
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The world of ballet would look rather different today if Monaco didn’t exist.

Despite being just two square kilometres in size, the famously wealthy French Riviera city-state has wielded an immeasurable influence on the art form.

And UAE audiences can experience the fusion of performing arts and history when Les Ballets de Monte Carlo brings Jean-Christophe Maillot's world-renowned choreography of Romeo et Juliette to Dubai's Madinat Arena on Thursday, January 15, and Friday, January 16.

Monaco’s influence goes back to 1911, when the itinerant Ballets Russes – widely regarded as the most influential dance company of the 20th century – was invited to take up residency in the country.

Led by the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, the company pioneered a fresh approach, based on a collaboration between compeers and choreographers that had been lacking in the 19th century’s classic romantic productions. The style endures to this day.

The company benefited from crucial financial support from Monaco and a number of game-changing productions debuted at the Salle Garnier.

That opera house, built on the side of Monte Carlo’s famous casino and based on Paris’s Palais Garnier, has hosted more than 40 world premieres. All this in a country of 36,000 people.

“All dance companies should be respectful of what happened in Monaco 100 years ago – this was the beginning of dance as a popular art form in the world,” says Didier Lambelet, tour manager of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, the latest organisation to benefit from the generosity of Monaco, which is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Established in 1985 by Caroline, Princess of Hanover, the company enjoys an unprecedented level of artistic freedom – and financial support.

“This is something we’re very proud of, and also a very heavy heritage,” says Lambelet. “The princess has full confidence in the company; it’s a huge freedom to work in this environment.”

The company is financed by the royal purse and government of Monaco, an arrangement that seems to work in its favour.

“A couple of years ago, Monaco went through a difficult period where a lot of subsidies were cut, but we got away with very few [cuts],” says Lambelet.

“The situation in the world right now is not great for supporting art. Our situa­tion is not unique ... let’s just say we’re a bit more privileged than the others.”

The company is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, but Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in its present form began in 1993 when Princess Caroline approached the renowned French choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot to be its artistic director, a position he still holds.

An international touring reputation was established with Maillott's distinctive 1996 adaptation of Romeo et Juliette, which is what the company is bringing to Dubai.

Since its debut in Monaco, the celebrated production has been performed more than 300 times around the globe – but never before in the Middle East.

“This piece means a lot to the company,” says Lambelet, a former dancer from Switzerland who has worked alongside Maillot for more than two decades in Monte Carlo and Paris. “It was the first big thing that Jean-Christophe did and this was the main thing that brought the company a successful future.

“When you’re going to a country you’ve never been to before it makes sense to bring the one you started with.”

After performing in about 70 shows with the company, including in Romeo et Juliette, Lambelet retired from the stage in 2001 to become tour manager.

Set to Sergei Prokofiev's classic score, Maillot's Romeo et Juliette is technically a classical production, yet it uses modern costumes and bare stages in an approach that is invariably described as "neoclassical" (a tag he doesn't like) and "post-modern" (one he approves).

"Most of the time, productions of Romeo and Juliet are based on the social conflict between the two families," says Lambelet. "The topic of this version is the first love affair, the leaving of adolescence – a love affair so strong there was no way they could survive without being together for eternity.

“A lot of people come up after the show and say: ‘This reminds me of my first love.’ ”

Presented as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival, the production is supported by Alliance Française Dubai.

Lambelet hopes this won’t be the ballet company’s last visit to the UAE – and already has his eye on the forthcoming Dubai Opera House.

“There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes to bring us here,” he says. “We’ve been trying to bring the company to Dubai for years and years.”

Romeo et Juliette will be performed at Madinat Arena on Thursday, January 15, and Friday, January 16. Tickets, from Dh195, are available at tickets.virginmegastore.me

rgarratt@thenational.ae