Dancing with a Vision: Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s Stephan Bourgond

The trailblazing Les Ballets de Monte Carlo performed in the United States last month, stopping at Segerstrom Center for the Arts and New York City Center. The company presented the American premiere of Choré, Artistic Director and choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “discourse on American dance and the political eras that have shaped it,” writes Joseph Carman in the LA Times. The World Dances spoke with company member Stephan Bourgond about Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Choré, his advice for aspiring dancers, and more.

What drew you to Les Ballets de Monte Carlo?

When I was a student at the National Ballet School in Toronto I had the chance to work with John Neumeier, director of the Hamburg Ballet, on his ballet Yondering. Having already worked on pieces by Jiri Kylian, Lar Lubovitch, Toer van Shayk, my ballet knowledge was developing and I was being very well nourished in different styles of dance. But when Neumeier came I felt like I came to life with his movement. It was a very powerful experience and as a student I was in awe of how he worked. Not only was the movement beautiful and exciting to do, but I was impressed by how much thought there was behind each step. Being able to connect one-on-one with such a choreographer left its mark on me and I knew that as soon as I graduated I had to go to Germany. 

I spent one year in the Hamburg Ballet School, but during that year spent most of my time working with the company. 

As much as I continued to be in awe of Neumeier's work, and had the privilege to be part of so many of his masterpieces, and even a creation with him, something inside me was saying that I needed a change.  

A friend of mine suggested that I take a look at Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and so I went on an online hunt for anything I could find. I was quickly drawn to the clips of Jean Christophe Maillot's work, and loved to learn that he too was in the Hamburg Ballet before embarking on his career as a director/choreographer. The more I watched from Maillot, the more I saw how he took inspiration from his years in Hamburg and created a style unique to himself. I appreciated the similarities of the two companies, particularly the fact that I would be working with a choreographer full time. 

When I arrived in Nice and took the bus to Monaco, I passed palm trees and drove along the sea and thought to myself, "I need to live here." Meeting Jean Christophe and taking class with the company was nerve wracking and exciting and I loved the energy of the "atelier." I was hooked. 

Is there a difference in the preparation process for you leading up to a ballet like Choré versus a more traditional piece such as The Nutcracker?

When Jean Christophe began creating Choré, he put a lot of emphasis on researching the style of the old movie musicals and the great actors from those films like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Usually in his choreography he likes long lines and sharp, energetic and dynamic movements. But in Choré, we had to search for something softer with more broken, stylized lines. We had to find a delicacy and simplicity in just being able to walk with a little shuffle in our step, hold our hands with just the right amount of tension, loosen our knees and ankles, understand how to carry our heads and shoulders with easy elegance, and still move our feet with the lightness of a tap dance. 

This is a ballet where Jean-Christophe challenged himself to use a very different style of movement from his own in certain sections, and every time we revisit it, it takes a little extra time to put back into place with the Fred and Ginger grace and delicacy. 

For me, the difference is really that the style of Choré is so specific, whereas a ballet like Nutcracker or Romeo and Juliet are done in Maillot's dynamic style, which I have learned and grown to understand over the many years I've been in the company. 

What are your roles in Choré

In the first sequence I play a sort of shade of Fred Astaire. It's a sequence that was inspired by how people used to look to these great musical stars as an escape from the reality of their lives. There's a sort of tragedy that hovers around the stage, and Danny Elfman's music has an eerie way of being light and very dark at the same time. I love the masculinity of the role and how, at the time, real men tap danced. 

In the second part of the ballet I play a Hollywood Star. In contrast to the first sequence, which carries a lot of weight on its shoulders, the second sequence gives an embellished and quite ostentatious perspective of the stars of the silver screen. I play a character like Clark Gable. A well-trimmed mustache, twinkling eyes, and a smile that could melt a woman's heart are my assets in this scene and I milk them and milk them some more. 

It was the first time I ever had to play a comedic role, which was a really great challenge for me. Creating this part with Jean Christophe was a really pleasure and full of laughs. It's wonderful to hear the audience reacting to the jokes and how every night someone in this scene will pop out with some new and hilarious reaction that almost makes us break character and laugh onstage ourselves. 

What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about working with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo?

Working daily with a living choreographer is both the most challenging and rewarding thing about being in Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Even when we repeat some of his great creations, like Cinderella or Lac (after Swan Lake), the work is constantly living and breathing and changing. 

I am constantly being challenged to rethink my approach to a role, and just when I think I've got it, and the boss is happy, I know the next time we are in the studio again we will dive back into the character and think about how it could be approached differently. I love that I never feel fully settled into a role and am always able to research more into it. 

What are your hopes for the next 5-10 years?

When I first met with Jean Christophe during my audition for Les ballets de Monte Carlo, something I told him was that didn't want to dance for long, so while I'm doing it, I want to really do it. The reason I said that was because there are other passions and worlds I would like to explore. One thing I have become more and more passionate about is cooking, and the more I do it, the more I love it. It's something that snuck up on me and gave me an outlet and a different kind of focus. I love cooking for friends and researching and trying new and different restaurants when we are on tour. Maybe in the next five to ten years, I would love to have made a smooth transition into developing my culinary skills and opening my own small café, a place where I can hide behind the curtains this time, still dancing, just through a kitchen. 

And tango classes!

What advice would you offer aspiring professionals who would love to follow in your footprints?

Make your own footprints; you are unique.