The latest creation by the Montréal-based dance company Cas Public, created by contemporary dance artist and choreographer Hélène Blackburn in 1989, is a re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, told through the visual vocabulary of modern dance, music, and re-conceptualizations of movement that evoke notions of seduction, desire, passion, and death.
Symphonie Dramatique retains the highly-charged, electric, and sensual energy of Blackburn’s other productions and collaborative projects, such as Duels and Suites Cruelles, but this time, there is an added layering of movement, dialogue, and music (and in some cases song) to the visual and auditory spectacle, that leaves the audience consumed and breathless on the edge of their seats. Blackburn achieves this by foregrounding the solo or coupled dancers, while retaining almost constant movement in the background. In addition, projections of Shakespeare’s stanzas, light-effects, and the music mixed with dialogues add to the layering, and build the momentum of the movement, narrative, and emotional pitch, until the powerful dramatic finale.
Symphonie Dramatique also evokes a dialogue between Prokofiev, Tchaïkovski, Gounod and many others in the form of a soundtrack by composer and sampler Martin Tétreault, who puts a unique spin on the music inspired by this tragedy. A paean to the impossible and the battle that must be waged to fulfil one’s destiny, this powerful and sombre work sheds new light on the most famous love story of all time.
Blackburn and her company continue to expand the traditional dance vocabulary, ranging from classical ballet, highly technical and acrobatic skills, to unconventional and innovative movements and formations. The Precision of execution and the physical grace and athleticism of the dancers are, as always. highly impressive.
Similarly, the company continues to break down traditional gender-role performativity and barriers, moving farther away from the passivity of the female dancers and the domination and leadership of the male. Even though the female dancers are grouped as “Juliets” and the male dancers as “Romeos” (as marked on their t-shirts), their interactions, engagements, and configurations are increasingly neutralized, expanded, and re-conceptualized to allow for greater possibilities of engagements beyond gender. It is as if the eroticism of gender interaction is retained, but without compromising gender equality. That is a truly valuable and important achievement.
Symphonie Dramatique is a co-production by Opéra de Saint-Etienne, Opéra de Reims, Festival Méli Môme, Maison des arts de Créteil, Théâtre du Bic and L’Agora de la danse de Montréal.