Review By Lisa Lanzi
Romeo gazed upon his beloved young wife lying ‘dead’ and wondered how he could live without her, “Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide / Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on / The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark! / Here's to my love!”. Then he downs the poison. Or perhaps… he realises there may be other fair women he could begin a life with and begins to re-cap the flask. Juliet wakes and sees him about to die for love of her, they are already husband and wife, they flee from their families and set up house. Cut to twenty years later, a beloved daughter (Sophie), their relationship at an impasse and the couple have tried every therapy you can name, mainstream and other. Here tonight, in front of us, is their last ditch attempt to reconcile by implementing a memory exercise.
Two people walk out from the wings, the house lights still up. Sitting on tub chairs to one side they address the audience, making sure we can hear them (not everyone can, and I heard murmurs post-show that this was quite a problem for some) and Juliet-the-outspoken dominates the discussion demanding that they start “from a place of honesty”. Perhaps attempting to reveal Romeo’s ‘issues’ in the bedroom was a touch too far and he quickly tries to quiet her enthusiastic truth-telling.
This Lost Dog production from England was conceived and directed by Ben Duke, devised by Duke and Solène Weinachter, and performed here by Kip Johnson and Weinachter. The company was formed in 2004 by Duke and Raquel Meseguer to create work from text, movement and music where dance is framed by stories and characters: “We began with an idea and we continue to wrestle with it, to say what needs to be said and dance the rest.”
The strength and spell of the two performers drives this production, and both are phenomenally expressive as actors and dancers. Kip Johnson is tall, lanky and accomplished, a dancer who simultaneously exudes physical power, emotional confusion and raw gentleness in his Romeo role. Solène Weinachter is a compact package of energy, endowing her passionate Juliet with verve and bite. A pointed example of this is Juliet rattling off a list of ten questions to Romeo that he is not intended to answer - just ponder: “If I was dead, who would you ask out?”, “Do you watch porn?”.
Romeo/Johnson’s first solo stems from his version of meeting Juliet at the party he wasn’t invited to - because, you know, “our parents didn’t like each other very much”. The jerky, uncoordinated and hilariously awkward choreography is led from the pelvis signifying the teenage lust that drove him toward Juliet with the suggestive accompanying soundtrack of the Beatles’ I Want You. Romeo grins mischievously and shrugs, “It was a big feeling”. Juliet dismisses his recollection declaring that the Beatles had nothing to do with it and he was ‘gliding’ toward her through pure magnetic attraction to the soulful strains of Cat Power. She then directs him to recreate the gliding (a comic disaster) as she invites him into her memory of that scene.
And so it goes, each memory accompanied by a relevant or suitably ironic soundtrack, both arguing that their version is correct. At times one will ask the other to don noise cancelling headphones so that a truthful revelation can be confessed: Juliet tells of a brief sexual encounter with another man; Romeo reveals his ‘truth’ to us about his ultimately thwarted decision not to drink the poison. These two are haunted by their teenage image as the poster couple for romantic love because some wannabe playwright called Shakespeare came to tea and has now re-written their story, changing the ending. Juliet declares that the fictional fatal ending is much more romantic that anything that has happened to them in life.
The most memorable duet for me was a marvel of contemporary movement, huge lifts initiated by both dancers, and contact improvisation elements. The partnering was chaotic and effortlessly clumsy but precise in its athleticism depicting freshly consummated desire as part attraction, part battle; a memory of young love tainted with the fatigue of eventual incompatibility. Other movement sections were also strong and the entirety of the choreography shines because of the emotional depth integral to each moment. The technique is phenomenal but doesn’t overshadow the meaning or the narrative.
Revelations keep coming: of miscarriage, birth and parenthood, post-natal depression, misunderstandings, infidelity, boredom, disdain and sadness. The cumulative decline of a marriage illustrated by a beautifully constructed amalgamation of dance, text, music and theatre and ultimately, a profound desolation. Fortunately the sadness is tempered with comedy, in part, as there is a lot to take in throughout the 75 minute triumph.
In a final show of veracity, Romeo encapsulates the trajectory of their couple-hood through a danced reversal of the timeline, ending with him NOT approaching Juliet at the party. He then quietly, deliberately answers her ten questions and departs.
Once again, thank you Adelaide Festival for bringing superb dance theatre work to our shores.