Thursday, May 22, 2014

Romeo and Juliet by Scottish Ballet at the Festival Theatre on Wednesday.

Was a peculiar beast of a show. 

As context, I know nothing about who choreographed it, whether it's a recent production or a revival and what any of the reviews have been saying. Possibly more importantly, I went to see it with slight heavy dread in my heart. Another R&J. A silly sappy love story that benefits from Mr S's beautiful words which are obviously drowned out by Mr Prokofiev's rousing tunes in the ballet version. So my mind was a little bit open to being impressed and astounded but it was also receptively sponge-like to any concerns, anxieties or small but significant disgusts.

The experience was enlivened by the fact that everyone except B S Neill was late. Mother, to the extent that she was allowed in the back of the auditorium during the overture. So we set down, pulses racing at 7:29pm without the calm frame of mind you'd wish for as a prelude to an artistic experience.

The orchestra struck up. And they did strike and they were a fine orchestra, laden with strings and horns and percussion(s) and a piccolo and a bassoon and even a harp. Led by a conductor with a shiny yellow tie (that surely drew the eye of the dancers but maybe that was intentional), they made a fine and fulsome sound that stood in lovely contrast to Matthew Bourne's best pre-recorded delights a month ago.

It became clear that this was a stylised production when the dancers, to a finely honed calf, fell to the floor and rolled rolled rolled along the stage as the overture drew to a close. Parting the low-lying dancer-ful seas only to let Juliet, in a tiny blue nightie, drift through their massed low ranks in search of what? Judging from the filmed projected cityscapes, some sort of post-war torn peace, perhaps. Or just for her Romeo.

The stylising extended into the choreography with lots of sharp jabbing and angular aggressive movements finding their way into the arms of the especially tall and striking Lady Cap and her (what? Lover? Brother? Husband? Son?) tall and striking man person. The massed ranks of Monts and Caps marched, loomed and gesticulated at each other. And now and again, a small pack of soldiers in black stalked across the stage.

The projected brutalist architecture, war-torn streets and aforementioned blackshirts makes me wonder if they were trying to say something about fascism. The first chunk of the piece was certainly set in the 1930s. Then we leapt to the 1950s in the second act. And suddenly, as our tragic heroes moaned, gesticulated and writhed their last love-lorn breaths, people started popping out of the wings in neon lurex. The nineties were (apparently) upon us.

With the beautiful objectivity of five days later, I think I admire the attempt to make a statement about warring factions that stretched outside Verona in 14whatever. (Showing dread ignorance of when the classic text is set. And quite possibly of the location too.) But I'm not sure that this particular statement worked particularly well. 

The dancing was lovely. The choreography wasn't their fault. The orchestra, although they sometimes looked bored, did a pretty nice job. The set worked hard, lights were great and costumes were, well, colourful. But the concept? I'm not sure it needed to try that hard to impress us. 


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