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The biggest splash a ballet company can make in its debut appearance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music is by giving a fresh spin to one of the most popular and enduring ballets.

That’s what choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo will do when they bring their version of Sergei Prokofiev’s "Cinderella" to the Howard Gilman Opera House April 29-May 3.

Maillot took time out from his busy rehearsal schedule to give an exclusive interview to GO Brooklyn, explaining his reinterpretation of Prokofiev’s musical fairy tale.

"It’s always interesting when you give a new take on a story-ballet that’s very familiar, combining that with a new form or new way of telling the story," Maillot said. "The original idea was to keep it as a fairy tale - which we all need in these difficult times - but also give it a new human dimension so audiences can see themselves in it."

That new human dimension stems from a simple idea: Cinderella’s real mother (who died before the story begins) returns as our heroine’s fairy godmother.

"We start with Cinderella’s mother and father together, then we see her mother die, and the mother becomes the fairy godmother who follows her all her life," Maillot explained. "It may be that fairytales have more reality than we usually see, and maybe these kinds of fairy tales happen every day."

Prokofiev’s dazzling music gave Maillot the inspiration to seek a new approach. "Prokofiev’s score is more complex than the score for his ballet of ’Romeo & Juliet,’ and I wanted to see if I could explore the story in a more complex way through this complex music."

Maillot’s idea of Cinderella’s mother as guardian angel was also inspired by a real-life tragedy.

"My father died seven years ago, and he was the person who made me love what I’m doing today," Maillot said. "His death was a big shock, but curiously, I had a feeling of release and freedom, which sounds terrible. But I realized that he was a ’fairy godmother’ for me, and still is!

"I’m always thinking about him, but the difference is that now, I cannot ask him his opinion, so I have to invent the answer for myself."

Another Maillot innovation is to deny what audiences expect from classical ballet, like eye-catching sets and costumes. "I want to take away big costumes and big sets from this kind of ballet, which have less to do with the dancing and the performers," he said. "I want to make a fusion between dance and lighting [by Dominique Drillot], since the aesthetic aspect is most important.

"I want to make the choreography disappear into the story," said Maillot. "I want audiences to not be impressed by the technique but by the emotions. I’m preoccupied with the idea that the audience must become emotionally involved with the story. I don’t like doing ballet for specialists but for the general public."

Maillot believes passionately in art’s pre-eminent cultural role. "It’s our obligation to disturb people - not to shock, but to make audiences think in new ways, so they can perceive new things," he said. "Usually, the performance continually stops as the audience applauds the dancers, which to me is wrong. I want to force everyone to think more, I want to give everyone pleasure without trying to seduce them.

"Pleasure is not an enemy of creation, but boredom is. I’m trying to restore that balance - giving what people expect, but also more than what they expect. They expect Prokofiev and ’Cinderella,’ but I want to give them something more. Sometimes a little evolution is better than a big revolution."

That "evolution" includes a technical innovation: instead of a glass slipper, Maillot spotlights his dancer’s foot. "What’s most difficult is to give a dancer a glass slipper to put on and try to dance," he points out. "The true ’glass slipper’ for a dancer is her bare foot: that’s the most important part for a dancer. We use lighting and slight-of-hand for her glass slipper. Her whole foot shines when we put [glitter] on it, then a spotlight."

Maillot and his troupe’s BAM performances are part of a weeklong celebration, "Monte Carlo Takes New York," featuring visits by Princess Caroline. The French-born choreographer is overwhelmed by their inclusion.

"We feel honored to have been asked to perform here," he says. "It shows that, although there is glamour, there are also simple, passionate people who enjoy their work immensely. We hope that passion is apparent to the audience."

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo performs Prokofiev’s "Cinderella" at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene on April 29 at 7 pm, and May 1-3 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20, $40 and $60.

The April 29 performance is also the BAM Spring Gala, to be attended by Princess Caroline and Prince Ernst August of Hanover and HSH Hereditary Prince Albert; call (718) 636-4182 for gala information.

There will be a BAM Dialogue with choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot on May 1 at 6 pm. For more information, visit www.bam.org on the Web.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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