Romeo & Juliet Suite
Sydney Opera House, June 5
Until June 9
Reviewed by CHANTAL NGUYEN
★★★★

The star of Benjamin Millepied’s dance, Romeo & Juliet Suite, is not a dancer but the cameraman (Sebastien Marcovici, also Millepied’s associate artistic director). Featuring Millepied’s company L.A. Dance Project, Romeo & Juliet Suite involves staged dance, filmed live on and offstage with the footage projected onto huge screens.

A live camera feed is hardly new on theatre stages (Katie Mitchell and Neil Armfield have done it for years), but as Millepied points out, it is rare for dance. His camerawork is particularly gripping because it’s so intentional – behind every move, there’s a thoughtfulness to cinematographic detail and a keen eye to complementing the dance.

David Adrian Freeland Jr and Mario Gonzalez performed the two leading roles on opening night.

David Adrian Freeland Jr and Mario Gonzalez performed the two leading roles on opening night.Credit: Janie Barrett

The preferred Millepied technique is to treat the camera like a principal dancer, choreographing it into the human movement and blocking its steps during rehearsal. The result is captivating, with the camera creating its own movement and rhythm and visually carving up the space to enhance the motion of bodies around it.

Millepied is increasingly choreographing for the camera. Following his work on the film Black Swan and marriage to Natalie Portman (the pair made public their divorce in March), he directed seven shorts, four music videos, and a feature film starring Paul Mescal, bringing an intriguing dance-film intersectionality to the ballet world.

Sydney Opera House is also used by Millepied as venue and set. The camera follows the dancers down darkened backstage stairwells (where Romeo murders Tybalt), behind the crossover (the Capulet nightclub and crypt) and onto the forecourt, which becomes Juliet’s famous balcony (where, on opening night, a nonplussed Sydney seagull stole the show). It’s shot gorgeously, like a love letter to the Opera House.

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Romeo & Juliet is a canny choice for filmed dance because Sergei Prokofiev’s score is extraordinarily cinematic. Prokofiev’s music can make a wordless, danced Romeo & Juliet compelling no matter what choreography you stick on it: his score is painted with notes more vivid than words.

This is lucky for Millepied because Romeo & Juliet Suite is slightly emotionally muted. Admittedly, it’s pared back – there is no Friar Lawrence, Paris, or even the warring families – so it’s difficult to know who this Romeo and Juliet are and why they’ve suddenly decided to die. Mercutio and Tybalt (Shu Kinouchi and Lorrin Brubaker) are exceptions, more full-blooded in their violent tension than the lovers. It’s not a distracting problem, though, because Millepied’s style has never been about heavy realistic drama but a chic, abstract and discerning tastefulness – like an elegant glass of sparkling.

This ballet also substitutes heterosexual and same-sex couples on different nights. Opening night featured David Adrian Freeland Jr and Mario Gonzalez. Like the rest of the cast, they are solid performers with a distinctly American movement style. Go for the dance, but stay for the camerawork.

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