Choreography Hélène Blackburn
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
Russell Maliphant on speed is how I’d describe Québécois dance company Cas Public’s Symphonie Dramatique. Émilie Boyer-Beaulieu’s lighting design has something of Michael Hulls’s if not as dark, and the dynamic eight-strong dancers, five men, three women, are precision sharp.
Mixing and sampling music and dance idioms, the 55-minute-long production (Cas Public does not outstay its welcome) is intense, thrilling, if a bit scattergun. Company founder Hélène Blackburn’s choreography distills the essence of Romeo and Juliet to crucial scenes of turmoil and the extreme passions of youth.
Under a six-tiered chandelier constructed of wine glasses, refracting red, green and silver light, on a bare stage save for six black benches, constantly reconfigured by the dancers themselves, a story is told of “what here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.” Toil very hard, they do, in a show remarkably “geared to audiences ten and up”.
Quotes and scene markers spelled out in graphic art projection (video design Samuel Thériault) on the back wall, a version of the famous tale is revealed in a remix of disordered and disorderly scenes. A narrator speaks and sings a gentle song that Rufus Wainwright might have written, but it is the astonishing dancers who capture and imprison the eye.
Hip hop, contemporary and classical dance fuse in racy patterning and flow, Juliet dances with Romeo in triplicate, their names stenciled on the back of their black t-shirts. Italian hand gestures do much talking—must be cheeky chaps Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo. Dancers tussle with dancers, do elaborate press-ups on the benches, race on and off, now in white shirts and black trousers, now in gauze ballet skirts, now in bare feet, now on pointes.
You’d have to be a pretty sophisticated and well-read ten-year-old to get much of this. Prokofiev’s music gives a clue as to which scenes are being referenced, but then Tchaikovsky and Gounod and electronica come into the mix (sound artist Martin Tétreault). Something for everyone, rewind, replay, as fast as the speed of thought.
Exciting, high-energy, the dancers are focused, highly coordinated acrobatic, gymnastic, velocity addicts. And every action has its reaction and consequence. That’s for sure in Romeo and Juliet. Fractured text and fractured dance, fights and hurdles to leap, teenage angst is given an abstractly conceptual reading in Hélène Blackburn and Samuel Thériault’s scenography.
Lined up at the front, in synchronized and then individual moves, dancers Nicholas Bellefleur, Alexandre Carlos, Roxane Duchesne-Roy, Cai Glover, Daphnée Laurendeau, IsaBelle Paquette, actor-dancer Marc-André Poliquin and Mikaël Spinnhirny remind me of another Canadian dance company, Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot.
Hélène Blackburn works collaboratively with the dancers, and it shows: they invest so much of themselves in the work. Founded by choreographer and dancer Blackburn in 1989, Cas Public visits the Royal Opera House as part of Deloitte Ignite 2015.
A comet flashing across the dark sky, ignite the Linbury they most certainly do. Lights out, the story ends, and an almighty crash is heard. What did I say about consequences? Lights up, and the chandelier is on the floor smashed to bits, the comet has struck earth. Ah, a metaphor for the sorry tale.