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Geneva Ballet's Romeo and Juliet is a pared-down version

 

Romeo and Juliet

Geneva Ballet

When the Geneva Ballet's director, Philippe Cohen, met Swiss-born, Paris-based choreographer Joëlle Bouvier a few years ago to discuss a possible collaboration, he asked her what project she would most like to do.

"I told him I wanted to create a new Romeo and Juliet with the music of Prokofiev," she recounts. "And he said, 'But how extraordinary. That is exactly what I wanted you to do.'"

The result, which is showing at Hong Kong's Cultural Centre on July 19 and 20, is a minimalist (in Bouvier's words, "simple") version of the Shakespeare story, performed to three orchestral suites taken from Prokofiev's ballet score.

Gone are the parents, gone is the priest, gone even is the nurse. What remain are the two central stories, which give different takes on love and loyalty: the tragic story of the two teenage lovers from rival families at war, and the tragic battle between Juliet's cousin Tybalt and Romeo's best friend, Mercutio.

Bouvier's version begins with a funeral: the corps de ballet try to dance some doll-like figures clad in white to life again. Then the scene moves back in time, to the dance where the teenage lovers first meet.

"We know the story, and we know there is a balcony scene next. But I did not want to make a real balcony. I wanted the other dancers to create a balcony with their bodies," she says.

Before she created the ballet, Bouvier returned to reread the original play, which she had not read since she was Juliet's age (Juliet was 14 to Romeo's 15).

"Because we all read it so long ago, we think we know what it is like. But we forget. I read it and I cried," Bouvier says.

"In Paris, I see families who are at war with each other because of their religion or their colour, all the time," she says. "Today there are so many complications."

The story seems very contemporary, she adds, noting that sometimes you cannot be in love with the people your parents want you to be in love with.

"I wanted it to be a metaphor for sincerity and choice. These two young people choose something that is very hard and that is what I wanted to show," Bouvier says.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, July 19-21, 8.15pm; July 21, 2.30pm, HK$160-HK$460. Inquiries: 2268 7323

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