After changes of cast, threatened strikes, exorbitant economic demands from chorus and dancers, and a cancelled first night, Sasha Waltz's ballet Roméo et Juliette finally opened yesterday in Milan.
Let's start at the beginning. A couple of months ago the Teatro alla Scala website announced:
Roberto Bolle decided that the rehearsal periods foreseen would not have been sufficient to allow him to immerse himself totally in a new style.
So Aurélie Dupont found that she had her familiar partner back as Hervé Moreau was signed up. The couple first danced the work, created on them for the Paris Opera Ballet, back in 2007. Bolle's fans (i Bollerini) were reportedly trying to offload their tickets online immediately.
Then the chorus asked for a little extra in their wage packet as they were expected to wear a costume and memorize parts of the music, a bonus that would have cost the theatre 350,000 euros. La Scala's management agreed to give a little extra to the sixteen chorus members who were required to do a few (hardly noticeable) movements, but this wasn't enough. As the dancers also jumped on the bandwagon thinking that maybe they ought to have a little more cash for dancing on a platform with a steep rake, the theatre decided to cancel the opening on December 19 (which was, bizarrely, nine days before the scheduled second performance). Needless to say, in times where a third of Italians are living near the poverty line, and a half of youngsters are out of work, their protest got no sympathy whatsoever in the press.
However this Roméo et Juliette is so flimsy and lacking in emotion, with an extremely limited and confused choreographic vocabulary, that it may have been wiser to cancel all the performances and leave it at that. Waltz made no use of the classical training these dancers have, and some of the company obviously have no feeling at all for dance theatre. These dancers were selected to dance the classical repertory, and not all are suited such a vastly different dance style. Mick Zeni's Friar Laurence, though, was impressive, and he obviously has a natural instinct for modern dance which has been witnessed many times on this stage in the past.
Aurélie Dupont was confident as Juliet, though not very communicative. Hervé Moreau gave the outstanding contribution to the evening when he desperately tries to scrabble up an inclined wall and continually falls to its base. It is a solo without music and was powerful and real, in contrast with the superficiality of much of the rest.
The music helped save the evening with Hector Berlioz's Dramatic Symphony stirringly conducted by American James Conlon, Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera. The singers, who also had choreographic elements to perform, were very fine: mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, tenor Leonardo Cortellazzi, and the bass Nicolas Cavallier.
The applause was warm for the soloists (dancers and singers), but there were various boos and cries of “No!” when Sasha Waltz came on stage for her curtain call. The real tragedy here was not Shakespeare's story, but how much money – ballet company, chorus, guest artists, singers – was wasted on something that will be presented only eight times. This production will surely fade away quickly from the company's repertoire, much as the applause fizzled out rapidly after a couple of curtain calls.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.