A Stunning New Take on Shakespeare's Star-Crossed Lovers

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Shakespeare’s classic tale, Romeo and Juliet, has inspired a myriad of artists to interpret the tragic story into different media; books, movies, paintings, operas, symphonies, and ballets, among others. Distinguished Canadian dance company Cas Public will present their own take on the lovers caught between feuding families in Symphonie Dramatique, at Overture Center on October 20th in the Capitol Theater.

I recently spoke with Cas Public founder and choreographer Hélène Blackburn about the performance, which has been heralded by critics around the worlds as “thrilling,” and “urgent and contemporary.”

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What originally inspired you and your company to interpret Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in a new way?

HB: I had this project in mind for several years. In fact, I started thinking about it when my daughter saw the movie version of Romeo and Juliet made by Baz Luhrmann. She was 13 years old, and that was the first time I had ever seen her crying while watching a movie.

I put the project aside for awhile because I couldn’t find the right angle to approach it. But five years ago, I re-immersed myself in the magnificent text, in part, because a sordid murder case was making headlines in Montreal newspapers—it was framed as an “honor killing” An Afghan father was accused of killing his three daughters and first wife because the youngest girl had fallen in love with a Pakistani man. The links were then naturally made, and my project took shape.

What forms of dance are used in the production? Which musical pieces?

HB: In addition to ballet and contemporary dance, we often use movement from urban dance. For music, we asked composer Martin Tétreault to create a score for us that freely adapted pieces from the Romeo and Juliet symphonies from Gounod, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.

You also use a multi-media approach, correct?

HB: We often use video in our projects. This time, it is done in a very simple way, in order to highlight Shakespeare’s text.

Was the choreography created in collaboration with the company?

HB: I work closely with the dancers by directing the composition of phrases and movements. Sometimes the dancers explore certain gestures as we work through the piece, and I refine them. Other times, we start with improvisation and let the dance evolve from there. The final product, however, is very carefully choreographed by me.

How long has this company of dancers been working together?

HB: The members of the company change periodically. Some have been with us for several years already, so they were present during the creation of Symphonie Dramatique. Others have just arrived this season.

You’ve performed the piece in many different venues already, even the Royal Opera House in London. What has been the audience response?

HB: Always very positive. I think audiences are touched by the story, which we imbue with vivacity and honesty through dance. This is actually the last season we'll have this piece in our repertoire. It has been presented more than 100 times around the world!

The work is recommended for audiences 10 and up. Why do you think it’s important for young people to come see the show?

HB: I believe everyone should experience the arts from a very early age. It’s important for children’s development. But I also like performing for audiences of different ages—it’s great when parents and their kids can see the same show and appreciate it. We don’t ask if children are too young to see the circus or listen to music. It’s the same for dance, I think it’s just as accessible.

For tickets to Symphonie Dramatique and further information about the performance, please visit overture.org.