Dance Forum '09
Ballet Russes centennial
Monaco, December 9-20
In 1909, balletomanes had to reset the way they perceived ballet as Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev stormed Paris stages with innovative productions compiled with new measures of artistic excellence, joining forces with cutting-edge composers, designers and choreographers to supply a challenging experience, rather than merely light entertainment. He then went on to conquer the rest of the West and ended up making a decisive impression on the entire 20th century.
Monte-Carlo always remained a safe haven for the company, which after a major crisis regrouped and became Ballet Russes de Monte-Carlo. Today's Monte-Carlo Ballet sprouted later, and follows, in spirit, the Diaghilev tradition of excellence, devotedly supported by the Principality and an active patron in Princess Caroline.
The newly appointed artistic director of the Dance Forum festival, renowned choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot - also the artistic director of the Monte-Carlo Ballet - managed to orchestrate an unusually festive three-part platform that will end in the summer of 2010. With a generous budget and a highly ambitious program replete with dance creations from the best of the bunch, as well as numerous exhibitions, installations and conferences, Maillot catapulted the festival's fifth iteration to new heights.
Dance festivals tailored around a thematic or geographic core are relatively rare and often more satisfying, allowing for an in-depth understanding of the issue at hand. One cannot overstate the importance of Ballet Russes and its mark on dance. And seeing it in that cream-cake of a city - a beautiful, fully encapsulated socioeconomic heaven - assures the optimal setting for the experience.
My mission was to consume in five days maximum dosages of Nijinsky/Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Nijinsky/Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun as envisioned by companies from around the world. It began with Fauns, a dream-team of five choreographers and their rendition of Afternoon of a Faun and its musical score. Nijinsky's choreography was revived with superb dancing by Eric Vu An and decor and costumes originally designed by artist Leon Bakst.
AN ALTOGETHER different Faun was offered by Ivory Coast maverick Georges Momboye, who infused restrained tiger-like power into his dance. With the strong, rippling muscles of his supple upper body, Momboye kept to the basic narrative using the altogether different lexicon of a predator in place of Nijinsky's sensual, adolescent faun, which first introduced suggestive masturbation to prim 1912 audiences.
Maillot's interpretation strayed far with the free power-play in the far-reaching duet of Bernice Coppieters - well-remembered for her unique and diverse leading roles during the Monte-Carlo Ballet's recent visit to Tel Aviv - and Gil Roman.
Sadler's Wells London co-produced with the festival another medley of choreographic delights by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Wayne McGregor, Russell Maliphant and Javier De Frutos - an intriguing team armed with quality, thought-provoking dancing. De Frutos also supplied scandal with a dance full of sexual violence targeting the Catholic Church. Some viewers grabbed their furs and left; many were too stunned to move. Surprisingly, even 100 years after Nijinsky, one can easily shock audiences if one tries.
But you can easily bore them, as well. Take for example conceptual performers like Xavier Le Roy "doing" The Rite of Spring, imitating the conductor's gestures with extra eye-rolling. Or you can do it the Karole Armitage way - for three decades Armitage zigzagged between ballet, post-modern, punk and classical with the likes of Baryshnikov and Nureyev, yet ended with a shallow, pop culture faux-afro Rite.
Luckily one forgets her soon enough after the breath of fresh air supplied by the full company of Momboye, and by Canadian Marie Chouinard's striking visual affair - seen here 15 years ago at the Israel Festival - which gets straight under one's skin.