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Benjamin Millepied’s Romeo and Juliet Suite at Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House

It is all about a momentous, overwhelming tragic love.This was a totally mesmerising, captivating performance that knocked one’s socks off. The casting of the Suite changes from night to night – male/female, male/male, female/female.I was privileged to attend the Saturday matinee and saw the terrific male/male casting. 

It was choreographed by Benjamin Millepied, a former principal dancer at New York City Ballet, now Artistic Director of LA Dance Project,who briefly led the Paris Opera Ballet ,and his passionate resolve is making classical ballet accessible.

It is an updated, very pared down version of Shakespeare’s play, set now, with just four main characters – Romeo ,Juliet ,Tybalt and Mercutio. There is no Friar Lawrence or Juliet’s Nurse, wedding or County Paris. and Juliet’s parents are perhaps represented by the ensemble of the LA Dance Project. The Romeo I saw was David Adrian Freeland Jr, ignoring long held vendettas, reverently following Mario Gonzalez as Juliet, who manifested the dizziness of first falling in love Tybalt was splendiferously danced by Lorrin Brubaker-strutting, furious, with lifeless eyes, and determined to continue the ongoing inter-family feud. Shu Kinouchi was a swift, nimble and dramatic Mercutio.

Millepied’s demanding choreography includes runs, spectacular jumps, high lifts and a fabulous long stretched ‘line ‘ and a fascination with current intensity and structure. Sometimes the dancers moved in quite surprising ways. There was an essence of actuality as some of the dancers traipsed away after performing a particular segment, or visited the wardrobe department in the wings. The patterns of the ensemble unison work were impeccably controlled. The solos emerge from the flow of the narrative and do not serve as an excuse for flashy displays of technique.

Millepied blends cinema,theatre and dance – a large screen is used as the action is filmed,and a cameraman (Sebastien Marcovici ) follows the performers unobtrusively around, or there is (rarely used) a fixed camera high above. The ‘fourth wall’ is broken down as are seemingly the walls of the theatre.Marcovici’s camera sometimes loosens the narrative and atmosphere of the work and allows us to scrutinize dancer’s faces and their dancing from uncommon angles.

A major highlight of the performance is the very tender and intimate pas de deux for Romeo and Juliet outside the auditorium, the equivalent of the ‘balcony scene’, using the foyer and the large steps of the House, allowing us to see the Opera House sails and the Harbour outside , which was at one point joined by a seagull. When Romeo dramatically chases Tybalt out of the auditorium and down into the lower levels , killing Tybalt who bleeds to death this is also caught on screen by Marcovici . 

The lighting (François-Pierre Couture) is provided by the dancer’s holding of what could be regarded as light sabers (long handheld light sticks). Blue or red lighting (and some costumes) was used to distinguish between Capulet and Montague.

Excerpts from Prokofiev’s well known score were used, sometimes rather startlingly. The Dance of the Knights music is used for the packed rave-like party. 

A most enthralling performance.

Running time -roughly 80 minutes straight through no interval. 

Benjamin Millepied’s ROMEO AND JULIET SUITE was performed at the Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House between the 5th and 9th June 2024.

Romeo & Juliet Suite
Sydney Opera House
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Benjamin Millepied
Executive Director: Lucinda Lent
Director of Production: Nathan Shreeve-Moon
Director of Communications: Alice Mathis
Lighting and Scenic Designer: François-Pierre Couture 
Costume Designer: Camille Assaf
Creative Collaborator: Olivier Simola
Lighting Director: Venus Gulbranson 
Stage Manager: Betsy Herst
Stage Manager: Kait Mahoney
Camera Operator/Associate Artistic Director: Sebastien Marcovici
Rehearsal Director: Janie Taylor
Video Technician: Laurent Radanovic
Production & Tour Manager: Alisa Wyman

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