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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 15 JUNE 2015 — The occasion to see the Royal Swedish Ballet, founded in 1773 and one of the oldest companies in Europe, was not to be missed. In Paris after an absence of over 40 years, the company was performing Juliet and Romeo, the 2013 creation of Mats Ek, one of Europe’s leading contemporary choreographers. After his stunning ‘revisiting’ of Giselle in 1982, the audience was set to see the unexpected, and the unexpected was what they got, for Ek, with his odd choice of score comprised of popular extracts from Tchaikovsky arranged by Anders Hogstedt, went simultaneously too far and yet not far enough. Despite its early promise, the work lacked passion and dramatic scope, any drama as such being evoked by the spectacular scenery devised by Magdalena Aberg, aided and abetted by the excellent lighting effects by Linus Fellbom.

The work opened on a timeless setting, upon a stage full of swirling mists and darkness, a no-man’s land, where great, metallic looking panels were pushed around according to the action taking place. The blacks, browns and dark purples of the dancers’ costumes and the Tchaikovsky score merged with the shades and shadows to form a threatening whole. The dancers, some on two-wheeled chariots, covered the stage in waves, with a slanting, angular choreography reflecting the growing intensity of the score, before the arrival of Niklas Ek, the choreographer’s elder brother, when the action was surprisingly slowed down. The audience was left to wonder what this dancer, now in his early 70’s was doing propped up against a wall, swinging his legs in time to Tchaikovsky’s famous Piano Concerto  No. 1. Looking in the programme, one realised he was the Prince.

Mariko Kida and Anthony Lomuljo in Juliet and Romeo
Photo: Levieuxa

It was at this moment that the work skidded to a halt, picked itself up but continued in slow-motion. While the basic outline of the story was there, this version became too abstract and symbolic, thus losing much of the dramatic impact which should normally have come from the narrative as much as from the dancing. Fortunately there was Mariko Kida, romping, jumping and pulling faces, totally beguiling as the 13-year-old Juliet, to liven things up, but despite two outstanding pas de deux, including the balcony scene, it was hard to believe in her passion for Romeo. It was a one-sided partnership somewhat lacking in credibility. Anthony Lomuljo might be an admirable dancer, but as Romeo he was a bit of a nonentity.

Jerome Marchand as Mercutio in Juliet and Romeo
Photo: Levieuxa

Confusion arose in the ballroom scene. Who was this tall, aggressive, black leather trousered fellow complete with tattoos and black tutu towering over everyone? Strutting authoritatively around, more than one in the audience believed him to be Tybalt until quite late in the story, when the aforesaid individual, confronted with an adversary, met his death by knocking his head against a pillar on the side of the stage.  Ah, this was Mercutio, interpreted by Frenchman, Jerome Marchand, but then, why did Romeo have to avenge his death? Was it to avenge the affront of Tybalt, reduced to a secondary role, urinating over Mercutio’s dead body?

In contrast to the first half of the work, events were speeded up in act two, everyone meeting their deaths in record time. Before we knew where we were, the whole cast was lying down on their backs on the stage with their legs in the air, and the curtain came down.

Royal Swedish Ballet in Juliet and Romeo
Photo: Levieuxa

Happily, there was the magnificent performance of Ana Laguna, in the aggrandised role of Juliet’s nurse. Already charismatic and expressive in Act one, she came into her own in Act two, entering on stage on her two wheeled chariot, complete with golden helmet, with a smile on her face.   The pas de quatre with the boys in the market place which followed was quite splendid. There was, in fact, much to be admired in this controversial restaging, where humour there might have been had it not been seen in Paris in the aftermath of the terrorists attacks, perhaps dampening the mood of the interpreters as much as that of the capacity audience.

Photo headline: Royal Swedish Ballet in Juliet and Romeo
Photo: Levieuxa

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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