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Les Ballets de Monte Carlo

Jean-Christophe Maillot's "Oeil pour Oeil"

Grimaldi Forum, Monte Carlo, Monaco

April 14-18, 2001
By Emma Pegler

It is very difficult to write about this piece. On my way to the Grimaldi Forum to see the performance, I asked the concierge of my hotel whether the theatre was within walking distance or whether I should take a taxi. His recommendation was to walk; the performance was at 4 o’clock and so there would be time to take advantage of the brilliant sunshine and besides, nothing is far away in Monte Carlo. He added that he had been at the premiere the previous day and the piece was... difficult to describe.

The Grimaldi Forum is in a wonderful position looking out to sea but is a little too non-descript modern for my liking – I am always irritated when modern design hides the entrance so that you try to get in through side doors. However, once inside, everything is delightfully easy to find. The tickets ordered by internet were waiting at a desk with no queue and clear signs indicated that you should descend the escalator to get to the auditorium. Down the first escalator you are told that you have just reached sea-level and then down the second escalator you are told that you are below sea-level. Would the dancers be wearing aqua-lungs?

Once seated, we waited a while for Prince Rainier and family to file into the box at the back of the theatre. It seemed a long way from the stage. Until, that is, the action started and the words “Oeil pour Oeil” appeared in bold white on two screens, one either side of the stage, and in bold red on the curtain, followed by the names of the characters. I felt I was about to see a 1950s movie and leaned back in my seat to try to take in the stage and both screens in one line of vision.

La Pieuvre (octopus), queen of the underworld and surveillance, is dressed in a black Jean-Paul Gaultier-style reinforced bodice-dress with pointed breasts – the kind of thing I have seen Madonna wear. She is dancing in pointe shoes around a rather significant-looking mallette (small suitcase) with Loup (wolf) who is dressed in something reminiscent of a futuristic time traveller (gilet and trousers tucked into knee-high boots, all in black). Meanwhile, Iris, fresh complexion and dressed in a Calvin Klein-style linen jacket and shorts ensemble and dancing in soft shoes, is shown on the side screens asleep next to Adam who, sporting a shaved head, looked like he had just stepped out of the same fashion shoot. The newspaper handed to me as I descended below sea-level, informed me that Adam and Loup had been friends, belonging to a gang of Chimeres (fantastical spiritual creatures) that ruled over a particular district of the city. Iris, who had been friends with both, had finally chosen Adam and transported him far from the old gang to a peaceful life away from the city.

A glossy pocket-sized paperback book by author, Jean-Marie Laclaventine is available to buy instead of the normal printed programme. It sets out the story line he had devised with Jean-Christophe Maillot, artistic director of the Monte Carlo Ballet, including a description of their brain-storming sessions to devise the production and create the choreography. To cut a long story short, Loup wants revenge for Iris having chosen Adam and he knows that by stealing the magic mallette and setting Adam up as the culprit, he will have his revenge. The wrath of la Pieuvre, unleashed after her discovery that the mallette has been stolen, would ensure the sweet revenge.

A lot occurs between the opening and the close of this one act piece. I find myself drifting into describing the story more man than the performance itself but this is because the performance struck me as being about the story, and the dance used rigidly like mime to recount it. There is a great deal of frenetic action on stage and on the side screens. The screens demonstrate how la Pieuvre controls the underworld through surveillance. Non-dancing cameramen dressed in black walk around the stage filming the dancers. In addition, the screens add dramatic emphasis by showing what is happening on stage, but in black and white, giving a triptych effect, or aid the story line by showing a development such as Iris and Adam’s idyllic life, portrayed on stage in a duet about love and togetherness, about to be destroyed by Loup, shown on screen, lurking outside the house behind the scenery with the mallette. Later on we see the mallette on the screens being taken and replaced with a note saying “oeil pour oeil” (“eye for an eye”). More screens arrive on stage showing the same as the side screens, except that, since you cannot be sure that it is the same, you become distracted looking from screen to screen.

The Chiens, the official police of the city and named on account of their dog faces, created with muzzles and leather head pieces with ears, are pitted against the Chimeres of the underworld dominated by la Pieuvre. Adam, once a major player in that underworld, is chased by the Chiens when trying to hide the mallette. He makes a spectacular leap into the orchestra pit followed by the Chiens, but in fact is hanging by his finger tips from the edge and so manages to pull himself back up on the stage to escape. It is at this point that I realised that the music was taped rather than live – with so much going on to stimulate the senses, I had not really thought about the music. (Alfred Schnittke’s music dominates the production but Elliot Sharp’s “Digital”, Keith Jarrett’s “Invocations” and Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” are used for certain scenes).

Why did Adam take the mallette? Laclaventine tells up that Loup suggests to Adam that he is giving him “la chance de votre vie” (“the chance of your life”) and Adam trusts him from their days as friends making mischief in the underworld. However, Adam ends up bleeding to death on stage after a clash with Loup when it becomes apparent that Loup has tricked him and Iris looks into the mallette without the aid of sunglasses and very convincingly becomes blinded by the intense light that emanates from it (on the screens we see her pupils contract, her eyes glaze over and then the screens blur). Loup has triumphed and I feel rather annoyed that bad futuristic dressing triumphed over the clean-cut Calvin Klein couple. What conclusion should one draw from this? Iris was a fool to think she could domesticate Adam? Adam’s greed for the suitcase led to their doom? Evil triumphs? An eye for an eye is a proverb with real bite?

The newspaper and glossy pamphlet explained the story and the characters’ motivations in great detail. Unfortunately the dancers remain anonymous for me because there were no biographies for them. I admired the performances of the central characters – all strong, clean, inspired dancing and excellent, convincing acting - and I would have liked the opportunity to read up on what they have done before and where.

The story was gripping and the dancers acted well but that was the drawback for me – a great deal of dramatic movement and expression which disguised and dispensed with the need for dance. I felt the characters were developed and defined more in terms of appearance and gesture than by expression through dance. When Iris (danced by Bernice Coppieters), frantic to find Adam (danced by Gaetan Morlotti), is left on stage with Loup (danced by Chris Roelandt), we begin to see evidence that she is a good dancer and not just an expressive actress but the choreography fails to progress and falls back into jerky, accusatory movements and gestures.

This was the first time I had seen Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and Maillot’s handiwork. Laclaventine and Maillot have collaborated on other ballets, Lundi matin 11 heures (1988) and Betes noires (1993), but I would be interested to see Maillot’s other work to see what he produces when it is not dominated by Laclaventine’s strong story-line. My lasting impression as I rose above sea-level, emerging from the underworld of La Pieuvre and the Grimaldi Forum was that the story was dramatic and fascinating and would linger in my mind for a long time and that the production was a feast for all the senses, with its careful use of the written word and film in addition to dance and music, to communicate to the audience. But I wanted more dance.


Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.



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