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Symphonie Dramatique review at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London – ‘succinct and athletic’

Symphonie Dramatique at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House Symphonie Dramatique at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
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With Kenneth MacMillan’s blockbuster version of Romeo and Juliet playing on the main stage, the Royal Opera House probably thought it a clever idea to present a small-scale contemporary take on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in the Linbury – and they are right. MacMillan’s 1965 ballet is so venerable, so definite and so massive that a pared-back, contemporary production could be both new broom and reminder of his achievement.

Symphonie Dramatique is the work of Montreal-based Cas Public, the French-Canadian troupe formed by Helene Blackburn in 1989. It has some interesting ideas, including the sampling of Prokofiev’s over-familiar music, and the notion that, far from being the work of an “omniscient choreographer” as the programme puts it, dance is a collective act dependent as much on the dancers as the choreographer. However, the ballet also has several flaws, the main one being that you wouldn’t know it was about Romeo and Juliet from the choreography. Without Prokofiev’s music, and the projecting of Shakespeare’s text on to the stage back wall, it could be about almost anything. Other flaws include an over-familiar athleticism, and a conspicuous use of point work, like a pianist waving his hands around to remind you of the dexterity of his fingers.

The piece has some good ideas, including a mischievous take on the Mandolin Dance (which often looks tired in traditional productions of Romeo and Juliet). There’s also excellent use of a limited costume budget, and eight able and committed dancers. But without closer choreographic reference to the story, the work is less a dance-drama and more a series of dance sequences.

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Succinct, athletic version of Romeo and Juliet, but lacking a choreographic narrative of the story