Some argue that society no longer values the ballets of yesteryear, that the classical aesthetic is no longer relevant to modern-day audiences. Should you agree then LAC might just change your mind. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s interpretation of the iconic Swan Lake dazzles with drama and intrigue. Choreographed by company director Jean-Christophe Maillot, the dancers never miss a step while maintaining intricate characterisations within a labyrinth of dramatic twists and turns. What makes Maillot’s version exceptional is its courage to explore Swan Lake as a psychological thriller weaving together a tapestry of darkness, lust and revenge.
An award-winning soloist dancer from the Hamburg Ballet, Maillot broke his leg three times before retiring as a dancer and commencing his choreographic career. In 1993 he was appointed director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo by Princess Caroline with the goal of making ballet more accessible to modern audiences. Maillot’s style is generally sparse and cinematic, and LAC follows this tradition.
The standout character in this retelling of Swan Lake is “Her Majesty of the Night”, danced by Anna Blackwell. Maillot has recreated this character based on the usually male and limitedly defined villain Rothbart, Evil Magician. Her Majesty of the Night is developed into an evil that, for reasons unknown, constantly torments Prince, danced by Matéj Urbanand, and his family. Perhaps she is a manifestation of the royal family’s own inner demons. She is relentless in her pursuit of their demise and is given the most evocative and dynamic choreography in the ballet. Blackwell commands the stage with the support of “The Archangels of Darkness” danced to perfection by Asier Edeso and Australian Ballet School alumnus Benjamin Stone. Their artistry in flawlessly executing steps with dramatic effect are enough reason alone to see LAC.
Swan Lake historically has dark undertones. It originates from Russian folklore by an unknown author, suggesting the narrative has been passed on verbally. This would account for a variety of interpretations. Traditionally the plot follows the story of a Prince Siegfried falling in love with a white dawned swan princess, then being tricked by an evil magician to fall in love with and promise to marry a black swan princess. Once the white swan realizes that she has been betrayed, she typically does not forgive the prince and either one or both die. Occasionally, a light-hearted director will show compassion and allow the lovers to reconcile and live “happily ever after”. Artistically speaking, Maillot is not light-hearted. If you are a traditionalist there are certain aspects of this production that you might find disappointing. The score has been edited (no “Danse des Petits Cygnes”) and no tutus. The overall focus is taken away from the Prince and his love for the White Swan, danced by Lou Beyne, by the persistent shadow of Her Majesty of Night. Even the Black Swan, danced with fortitude by April Bell, is relegated to a minor role in comparison. If Swan Lake’s core is traditionally a showdown between the Black and White Swan over the heart of the Prince, then LAC is more diabolical duel over the soul of the Prince and his true love.
LAC has an overall quick tempo of moves, oscillating between classical ballet lines and modern dance quirkiness with injections of comedy and contemporary ideals. But the overall effect of LAC is powerful and dynamic. The set is very sparse with designs by French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest. Lighting cues follow the score effortlessly with a particularly buoyant effect of water on the stage floor in Act 1. The costumes follow an arc of seemingly minimal to increasing grandeur as the ballet progresses. Award-winning Cirque du Soleil designer Philippe Guillotel instinctively knows how to make a costume flow with the dancers’ movement, as if the fabric had a life of its own. The colour pallet is broad and opulent with flattering designs that literally pop from the stage. The costumes moved in perfect synchronicity with the choreography as seen in Mimoza Koike, The Queen, with her mesmerizing fast backward bourrée in a long, pleated, gilded skirt.
The dance artists of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo have custody of a trifecta of skill: classical ballet line, contemporary athleticism and in depth acting. The choreography largely follows the familiar melody of Tchaikovsky’s score. The dancers possess exceptional unison and articulate musicality throughout the ballet. Act 2 presents the entrance of the White Swans with a byzantine swirl of patterns and footwork. Act 3 is the most ambitious section of the production with a regal court dance, and a dramatic culmination of beauty and moral dilemma.
LAC leaves a lasting impression. The battle of good and evil rages on in fictitious and non-fictitious life, but Maillot and his dancers move away from the artificial and embrace the psychological drama Swan Lake presents. Arguably, LAC lacks intimacy, especially between the Prince and his White Swan as they are hopelessly interrupted by the villainess. LAC offers an intelligent and innovative reflection on Swan Lake, however grim at its heart, portrayed on a canvas of splendour and strength.
Paris Wages reviewed the performance of “Lac” by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre on June 27, 2019.