Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage

Posted: March 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage

Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage, February 19, Battersea Arts Centre

Juliet & Romeo

Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet & Romeo (photo: Jane Hobson)

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” – Anais Nin

Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage is the latest 70 minute work from the pen and body of Lost Dog’s Ben Duke who frames the work as what he calls the real story of Romeo and Juliet. ‘It turns out they didn’t die in a tragic misunderstanding, they grew up and lived happily ever after. Well they lived at least. Now they’re 40ish, at least one of them is in the grips of a mid-life crisis, they feel constantly mocked by their teenage selves and haunted by the pressures of being the poster couple for romantic love. They have decided to confront their current struggles by putting on a performance – about themselves.’

The premise is a canny piece of audience and marketing catnip; a well-known play that has been presented and adapted hundreds of times on stage, film and in literature and is familiar to almost any audience. Duke offers a gentle shake of the original premise so the central relationship between Juliet and Romeo is extended a couple of decades and they’re now undergoing marriage therapy and their relationship is on the verge of dissolving.

And by the way, everything in life is writeable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

In his previous work, the award-winning Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me), Duke played a self-doubting, literary, anxious yet loveable Hugh Grant bumbler and it feels as if he has resuscitated the same character for his Romeo opposite the luminescent presence of Solène Weinachter as Juliet. The traversing of characters across choreographic landscapes is a recognised technique in Duke’s Lost Dog land. In his It Needs Horses, which won The Place Prize in 2011, the circus artist character of Anna Finkel was reprised in the subsequent Home For Broken Turns as one of five women (another being Weinachter). Seeing a character in a new environment but with a sense of familiarity is a neat dramaturgical device. It is as if in Juliet & Romeo Duke is suggesting we look back at Paradise Lost through the eyes of a 43-year-old Romeo.

Played in episodic flashbacks Duke and Weinachter offer us a number of theatrical and spoken memories in solo and duo, where they invite us (and each other) to look again at romantic encounters, painful moments and sliding doors that have led them to this fractured and tired state. Nestled alongside the memories are nine or ten identifiable pieces of music (from Desiree’s I’m Kissing You in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo and Juliet to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence to Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights) which offer opportunities for the more formal moments of choreographic input as we see Duke’s performed awkwardness come to the fore. Giving form to an initial courtship groin thrust or to the clasping and anguished rotation of the limp body of Juliet, Duke is a master of narrative delivery.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost

With his theatrical, literary and choreographic background, Duke has been honing a style of delivery and output that suits his strengths and masks his weaknesses; when he introduces a new presence into his world there is a delicate line to tread in making that person look as strong or comfortable as he does. After shining brightly in two recent works (The North and Plan B For Utopia) by Joan Clevillé Dance, Weinachter has a tricksy time in out-dukeing Duke as the sympathy is almost always skewed towards his anxious male character rather than to the stronger female. Weinachter delivers everything that is asked of her but the production’s sensitivity levels could be tweaked to offer a more satisfying, non-patriarchal dominance.

Despite this imbalance, Duke appears quite at ease in his theatrical craft — his performance, conception and writing are excellent — but there is not enough choreographic sustenance to hold Juliet & Romeo together and the choice of musical numbers is on the light side. The instant recognition of the first three seconds of each track generates a slight titter that soon dissipates and as the scenes of physicality play out I began to switch off; the directorial spoon feels uncomfortably close to crashing against the teeth and offers just too little nourishment. Like the relationship it describes, Juliet & Romeo’s strengths are not sufficient to resolve its inherent weaknesses and its promise dies before its time.

Royal Swedish Ballet: Mats Ek’s Juliet & Romeo

Posted: October 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Royal Swedish Ballet: Mats Ek’s Juliet & Romeo

Royal Swedish Ballet, Juliet & Romeo, Sadler’s Wells, September 27

Mariko Kida and Anthony Lomuljo in Mats Ek's Juliet & Romeo (photo: Gert Weigelt)

Mariko Kida and Anthony Lomuljo in Mats Ek’s Juliet & Romeo (photo: Gert Weigelt)

When you are familiar with a particular interpretation of a classic work it tends to provide an emotional and intellectual framework to which a new one will inevitably be compared. The first Romeo and Juliet I saw was Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 production for the Royal Ballet and its story line, characters and its Prokofiev score have since become a benchmark. Now, nearly fifty years later, Mats Ek has produced a new version of Shakespeare’s play for the Royal Swedish Ballet, but its break with MacMillan’s treatment is so fresh that it commands attention.

Perhaps most importantly, Ek has chosen to cast aside Prokofiev’s original music in favour of a composite score of Tchaikovsky’s familiar and less familiar works (chosen by Ek and adapted and arranged by Anders Högstedt) that are nonetheless rich enough in fanfare, emotion and minor keys to colour and support the action. The choice of music frees Ek — who can draw from his experience as stage director as well as choreographer — to establish his own vision of Shakespeare’s play.

The backdrop of Verona is dropped, too, in favour of Magdalena Åberg’s set of steely, movable panels that suggest no particular place or time and which, rearranged by the dancers and transformed by Linus Fellbom’s lighting, become the walls, alleys and interior spaces in which the story unfolds. This choreographic manipulation of the stage elements echoes a constant theme of encroaching violence: Åberg‘s elegant, autumnal-coloured costumes engulf the bright yellow dress of Juliet but cannot extinguish it and the trapdoor in the stage through which Romeo first appears becomes the lovers’ grave.

Ek has stripped the cast of principal characters to a minimum. There is only one family, that of Juliet: her mother and father, her cousins Tybalt and Rosaline, her nurse, her nurse’s servant, Peter, and her suitor Paris. By comparison, Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are seen as stateless outsiders. The only figure of (ineffectual) authority is the Prince whom we first see skating into a headwind to the opening theme of the First Piano Concerto in B Flat minor.

Those who search for the story in the printed program may be flummoxed and perhaps irritated by the lack of a synopsis as not all the characters are immediately identifiable. It is worth remembering that Shakespeare’s play does not begin with an outline of the plot, either. He provided the dramatis personae and the setting but it was left up to the audience to deduce the story from the snippets of chorus and the dialogue between the characters. Ek’s approach is the same: the ‘text’ is his richly poetic choreographic language in which metaphor and simple character traits are juxtaposed with such mastery that he can transport us vividly not only into the lives of his protagonists but also into his overarching themes. If you see Juliet & Romeo in the same way you might listen to Wagner without knowing the story, the emotional clout will remain with you long after you have studied and forgotten the complexities of the narrative.

While the choreography carries the story — in particular the love duet at the end of the first act between Juliet (Mariko Kida) and Romeo (Anthony Lomuljo) that contains all the rapturous enthusiasm and abandon of first love — there are two characters who rise above the story through the fullness of their portrayal. Ana Laguna as Juliet’s nurse has a heart that balances compassion for her ward with an irreverent sense of fun. The weight and authority of her gestures and her freedom of expression make her utterly convincing. The portrayal of Romeo’s friend Mercutio (Jérôme Marchand) as a brash, warm-hearted homosexual attracts both the devotion of Benvolio (Hokuto Kodama) as his chirpy guardian angel and the venom of Tybalt (Dawid Kupinski) whose steely machismo astride his Segway bears an eerie resemblance to Vladimir Putin on horseback. Bare-chested in his black leather pants and tutu, Marchand is like a jester whose convoluted and bawdy personality is at constant risk in a homophobic society. When Tybalt kills him in a brawl, the ugly sub-story is one of gay bashing. When Juliet dies at the hand of her father (Arsen Mehrabyan), the ugly sub story is that of honour killings. These two deaths are not lost in the mists of history to contrast with a beautiful love story, but are a reminder that such insidious violence can erupt — and does erupt — within our own society.

The impression Juliet & Romeo leaves is that of a morality play of our time, a meditation on the tragic consequences of discriminatory authority. The final scene of the full cast lying on their backs and raising their legs in solidarity with those of the upturned corpses of the two lovers is Ek’s transcendent metaphor for change.