The month of October sees the opening of the 2021-22 ballet seasons in both Nice and Monte-Carlo. We take a look at the opening works.

Nice Méditerranée Ballet, under the artistic direction of Éric Vu-An, presents five works in a programme entitled Black Dances Matter – paying tribute to the influence of black artists in the history of dance. The company has a well-deserved reputation for versatility, and this is amply displayed across Vu-An’s Eden and Le Ballet de Faust, Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, Dwight Rhoden’s Verse Us and Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature.

In Eden, Éric Vu-An – who is of Franco, African and Vietnamese descendancy- depicts a harmonious time when Humanity gave birth to all, regardless of race or colour, but – as the music from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice foretells – this Utopian state doesn’t last, as tolerance, universality and love descend into conflict.

The second work comprises solos from Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, a ballet in which Béjart reconnects with his African heritage (he had a Senegalese grandmother). Chaka is based on a text by Senegalese poet, politician and cultural theorist, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as the first president of Senegal for 20 years. Set to Brazilian and Ivory Coast music, the ballet has Chaka, the founder of the Zulu kingdom, as its central character, demonstrating what Senghor saw as the influence of Africa on modern culture.

Éric Vu-An created his Le Ballet de Faust in 2018, setting it to the music of Charles Gounod. This work is his interpretation of Walpurgis Night – the scene in Gounod’s opera Faust when Mephistopheles shows Faust the folk celebration before May Day, the night on which the souls of the dead are briefly released to wander as they choose. Building on a sense of joyful reverie, the ballet paints a vivid, colourful picture of the dancers reaching a stage of total distraction in which dance and trance are never far apart.

Dwight Rhoden, a former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey Company, is the co-founder, and one of the two artistic directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York – widely regarded as America’s original multicultural dance company. His Verse Us is a dramatic piece with jazzy undertones, and an impressive display of movements in a bold, almost athletic style. Even the score is unusual – bringing together the music of Philip Glass, contemporary German composers Nils Frahm and Sven Helbig, and Estonian-born American conductor, curator and producer Kristjan Järvi. In a nod to tradition, the score also features music by Mozart and Claude Debussy.

The final ballet on the programme is Night Creature, created by the prolific American choreographer Alvin Ailey, founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a multi-racial modern dance company which had a significant effect on the popularity of contemporary dance, not only in America, but around the world as well. His Night Creature, dating back to 1974, is set to Duke Ellington’s Night Creature for Jazz Band and Orchestra. A spirited work, it features the antics of a group of bright young things in the Jazz Age, who come into their own after nightfall – as they strut, slink, leap and soft-shoe shuffle their way, 1920s style, through Ailey’s sassy choreography and Ellington’s fabulous score.

Black Dances Matter will be stage at the Nice Opera from 15th to 21st October. Reservations can be made by telephone on 04 92 17 40 79, or online.

Monte-Carlo Ballet opens its new season with a presentation of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s hugely popular version of Romeo and Juliet – which features in the repertoire of seven major ballet companies, and has been performed more than 250 times across the globe.

Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet, with its feuding families and heartbreaking young lovers, is well known worldwide, and perhaps that was one of the reasons that Maillot decided to look at it from a different perspective – that of Friar Lawrence. In Maillot’s creation the decisions taken by the well-meaning friar become the focus of the events which lead to the death of the young couple.

This interpretation of the ballet unfolds through a series of flashbacks on which Friar Lawrence reflects as he recalls the way in which their tragic ending came to pass – not the result of the hatred between the two families, but an accident driven by the innocence of two young people to whom love was paramount.

Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet, set to Serge Prokofiev’a gorgeous score, will be staged at the Salle Garnier Opéra de Monte-Carlo from October 20th to 23rd.

This is followed by a programme which features Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s In Memoriam – which many were unable to see last summer, due to the COVID crisis. Created for the Monte-Carlo Ballet in 2004, the theme of this ballet is based on the premise that the presence of the dead exists in our memories, and focuses on the bond between the departed and the memories which they leave behind. The dancers explore themes of attraction and repulsion, illustrating how deeply ingrained in our memories are the gestures – such as gentleness and violence – which we associate with those who have departed. The dancers are accompanied on stage by A Filetta, a vocal group which – according to Liberation – has become “…. one of the premier groups in Corsican traditional music …”.

The second part of this programme is devoted to a new work by Jean-Christophe Maillot called Bach on Track 61. It’s a work about which we know little at present, however Monte-Carlo Ballet’s Choreographer/Director celebrates his 61st birthday this year, and there is no doubt that Bach on Track 61 aims to show that his desire to create remains undimmed.

Performances of In Memoriam and Bach on Track 61 will be staged at the Salle Garnier-Monte-Carlo Opera from October 29 to 31. Tickets may be reserved online.

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Lead image courtesy Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur

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