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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 11 APRIL 2012 — This interesting and visually attractive one act ballet, (one hour, 15 minutes, no interval), owes but little to William Shakespeare, and much to the structure of Berlioz’ choral symphony of the same name. It is more a danced opera than a work based on the Romeo and Juliet myth.

Staged at the Théâtre de St-Quentin-En-Yvelines in March, but premiered in Verona, Italy, birthplace of the fated lovers, in June, 2010, its originality lies in the piece revolving around a succession of couples rather than the traditional one. Questioning French choreographer Thierry Malandain himself after the show as to why he’d opted for such an unusual angle, he replied that he wanted to portray the tragedy as a universal theme.

Arnaud Mahouy and Daniel Vizacyo in Roméo et Juliette
Photo: © Olivier Houeixa

"It’s a story which belongs to everyone, "he told me. "Passion can happen to us all be they young or old, fat or thin, pretty or plain. And then I was faced with a personal dilemma in my company, which is essentially a group of dancers without stars. Who would I choose for the ‘starring roles’, and moreover, with the Berlioz score, the central pas de deux lasts for 18 minutes. What would the rest of my dancers be doing while that was happening?"

Not only is the spectator faced with nine couples interpreting the ill-fated lovers, but the work also begins at the end, with a flash-forward. Indeed, the dramatic and theatrical setting as the work opens, with the dancers in modern, timeless costumes, in grungy shades of brown, grey, black and violet, the sole decor being shiny metallic trunks serving as tombs for the dancers, takes the spectator into the heart of events from the start. Events then follow the structure of the opera, as all the main points of the Romeo and Juliet story are present; quarrels break out between the warring families, the Capulets’ ball takes place, and Mercutio comes to the fore in a superb solo, light, quick and fresh, one of the highlights of the ballet.

Ballet Biarritz in the ball scene from Thierry Malandain's Roméo et Juliette
Photo: © Olivier Houeixa

However, it seems to be less the story which interests Malandain, as the emotion which comes from the beauty of the movement and the orchestral score rather than from what the interpreter is expressing, echoing the words of the choir. One can only sit back and admire the series of short pas de deux which constitutes the balcony scene, with the shining metallic trunks pushed against each other to serve as Juliet’s balcony. Indeed, these same trunks also represent the steps and streets of Verona, mirrors, and the lovers’ nuptial beds.

Ballet Biarritz in Thierry Malandain's Roméo et Juliette
Photo: © Olivier Houeixa

But not least is the role held by Friar Laurent, who is not only one of the Romeos, but takes over that of the storyteller, bringing matters to a peaceful close at the end of the piece.

Currently on tour, Malandain / Ballet Biarritz will next perform 'Roméo et Juliette' in the French towns of Joué les Tours (17 April), Niort (20 April), Cherbourg (24, 25 April) and Blagnac (14, 15 May).

Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She wrote most recently on the late German choreographer Pina Bausch.

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