If you should ever get the chance to experience Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s phenomenal “Roméo et Juliette,” run don’t walk to get tickets—or in ballet terms, “pas de bourrée couru.” Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot’s still innovative 1996 rendition of this classic William Shakespeare play, set to music by Sergei Prokofiev, softens the formalities of ballet while using the form's energetic elegance to elicit deep emotions, not just of the two young lovers but the friar whose failed orchestration of their union torments him.
During a limited run at Orange County’s Segerstrom Hall this month, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo—under Maillot’s direction—showcased not only the company’s exquisite dancers, but its costumer and set designers as well. Jérôme Kaplan’s flowing fabrics in muted colors transport the play from its original Elizabethan context to an ethereal realm. Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s minimal set of movable curved white walls, benches and a ramp—with lighting by Dominque Drillot—keeps the focus on the dancers and facilitates their freedom of movement.
And the dancers absolutely own this space—flitting, leaping, playing, loving and also suffering—the dynamic choreography beautifully in sync with Prokofiev’s assertive music. As the Capulets and Montagues—including boyish Roméo (Jérôme Tisserand)—frolic in the “street,” their rivalry soon emerges. Meanwhile, the lithe Juliette (Anna Blackwell), bursting with the joy of youth (always opening out her arms to embrace life), still plays in her room with her nursemaid (Gaëlle Riou). Soon enough, of course, the two young people meet and love is born as if for the first time, both wonderfully childlike and sensual.
But haunting the edges of these scenes is a sinewy, tormented figure in black—Friar Laurent (Matěj Urban), who bears the weight of his actions like a cross, psychologically and emotionally trapped as he witnesses the story unfolding, unable to turn back time to prevent the inevitable conclusion of Shakespeare’s tale. In a way, his brooding character echoes Hamlet of another play (and we also get a foreshadowing puppet show here as in Hamlet), which transforms the friar into an active agent in the story, further enhancing the emotional devastation of its finale.
We are left drowning in despair along with the friar as the lovers succumb by their own hands, Juliette strangling herself with a bright red scarf pulled from Roméo’s impaled body—a visual metaphor of her attachment and extreme reaction to his death. The controlling black-clad Lady Capulet (Mimoza Koike) also makes a graveside appearance, though her previous coldness toward her daughter makes her remorse less believable.
The talented and completely invested dancers of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo bring vivaciousness and precise fluidity to each part. The stage is always dynamic with Maillot’s inventive—often visually arresting—choreography. “Roméo et Juliette” thus mesmerizes with beauty and exuberance from start to finish, allowing the audience to feel the lively bloom of youth, the delightful blossoming of first love and the deepest sorrows of loss and regret. This ballet is thus not to be missed at any opportunity.
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Roméo et Juliette,” by Jean-Christophe Maillot, performed at Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, from April 15 to 17, 2022.