Choreography: Hélène Blackburn
Music: Martin Tétreault
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Cas Public is a well-established French-Canadian contemporary dance company founded by Hélène Blackburn in 1989. Symphonie Dramatique draws from characters in Romeo and Juliet – principally but not solely the doomed lovers themselves. The show utilises text from the Shakespeare play and Martin Tétreault’s cleverly constructed and manipulated soundtrack draws heavily from the Prokofiev ballet score, mixed with different music from Gounod, Tchaikovsky and others, but to an extent – both elements are false flags and anyone expecting to find a familiar version of Romeo and Juliet within Symphonie Dramatique will likely find themselves baffled and disappointed. There are tiny fragments of recognisable narrative and character sewn into the fabric of the work but different elements are at play here.
Instead what Blackburn and co-scenographer Samuel Thériault have done is to extract key themes and character from the play and ballet and explore them inquisitively with great energy and playfulness: love, desire, passion unleashed, innocence, arrogance, rage, inner turmoil and impetuousness are physically dissected, reconstructed and placed on eight dancers – five men and three women, who work as a whole, in pairs, in threes, to present a thrilling and witty sequence of identical and different Romeos, Juliets, Mercutios and Tybalts.
Clever, dark staging and select props, deceptively complex lighting by Emilie B-Beaulieu and clever black and white costume and footwear changes – the three women appear in skyscraper heels, barefoot, socked and pointe shoes – add strong threads of meaning that help make Symphonie Dramatique an intriguing and multilayered piece of work.
And this is before the choreography is considered, which is richly detailed and complex. Much of the movement is rooted in classical ballet technique but manipulated and remixed in much the same way as the soundtrack, making something broadly familiar look startlingly different. Elements of street dance and performance adds further colour. Dancers engage in intense physical dialogue with one another and the audience. Classical arms and lifts are generously strewn throughout but delivered with gymnastic speed and precision, lyricism stripped and replaced with urgency and directness. Densely-coded arm and hand signals convey a stream of consciousness intriguingly almost impossible to follow. Repetition brings clarity.
The occasional use of pointe shoes results in Michael Clark-ish moments of repurposed formalism with long classical lines made a blur by whipfast partnering of long, rigid torsos with sudden and extreme arabesques and bends, while the far-from passive dancer performs a complex sequence of gestures While being manipulated in a way that is firm and relentless. There are some glorious moments – the folk dance scene, for example, is deliciously unhinged.
At other points, the mix of dancers results in a pleasing blurring of gender, contextually and choreographically: three Romeo and Juliets and one Romeo and Romeo. Gender is played with constantly within the group as a whole or in combinations and pairings and with costume. Boys will not always be boys.
Where the show is less secure is the use of text – spoken and projected – which can be distracting, and as mentioned, sends anyone remotely familiar with the story looking for a narrative that is near impenetrable if present. The cast are more persuasive dancers than actors. The three women – Claudia Colonna, Mariya Kyrychenko and Daphnée Laurendreau – are wonderful, strongly matching the five distinctive and versatile men.
Symphonie Dramatique is a high-energy, exciting piece of contemporary dance. It’s bold and distinctive and darkly fun. Just don’t be expecting Romeo and Juliet – although they do flicker into focus from time to time.
Reviewed on 23 May 2017 | Image: Foteini Christofilopoulou