Thierry Malandain, artistic director of the Malandain Ballet Biarritz Company, is a prolific choreographer who relies on ballet technique, mixed with more contemporary characteristics. On its first visit, this regional company presented a rendition of the Shakespearian drama Romeo and Juliet, set to score by Hector Berlioz, which starts at the end of the story – with death.
Malandain found an interesting angle which enabled him to deconstruct the play and rebuild it according to his own artistic vision. But was it enough? The set consisted of huge aluminum crates that resembled coffins, sometimes tombstones. The dancers, sprawled on and around the set, struck various lifeless poses, as a priest lamented their fate. From that point on, the original narrative serves as a vague undercurrent to the on-stage action. Not feeling obligated to the original, Malandain moves freely from graves to street celebrations, and back to loss and sorrow. In between he adds more abstract dance, loosely related to the core narrative. Giving up on the coherent dramatic process, where each action has consequences on a linear timeline, gave Malandain artistic freedom to express his perceptions, and also served to justify the constant on-stage costume changes, as the story unfolded backwards in time.
Since the dancers were often too busy with stacking and re-shuffling crates, or putting on and taking off various garments – ranging from casual wear to cocktail dresses, from skin-colored underwear to grim black jackets – it caused loss of focus and flow and redundant visual noise, rather than elevating the choreographic result.
In spite of the good dancers, this Romeo and Juliet rendition, unfortunately, didn’t leave a deep, lasting impression.