The Australian Ballet's “Romeo & Juliet” by Graeme Murphy
2020 Digital Season
The Australian Ballet: “Romeo & Juliet” by Graeme Murphy, filmed in the State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne with Orchestra Victoria, September 21, 2011
Memory is not linear. Have I told you this before? I saw this production of see Graeme Murphy’s “Romeo & Juliet,”filmed on Wednesday 21st September, 2011 at Arts Centre Melbourne with Orchestra Victoria, before I wrote my first piece for Fjord Review.
Memory tells me I saw this very version, starring Madeleine Eastoe as Juliet and Kevin Jackson as Romeo, from row H in the State Theatre as it was filmed. But memory is porous and subjective. My memory also tells me my primary school teacher took our grade 1 class to see KISS perform a special matinee. Have I told you this before?
Beyond a band name being a reference to a kiss between “a pair of star-cross’d lovers,” my memory of KISS has little to do with “Romeo & Juliet” and everything to do with it, for our memories are not giant archives to leaf through, but associative and unfixed. Each time we recall a memory, it alters to accommodate new information we have since received. And as we lay down new memories, we rewrite them to fit with our own understanding of them. Our ability to reconfigure our memories is not a fault, but a means for future creative growth; just as Aristotle described, our memories are less archives of our lives, more tools for the imagination.1
My memory has reconfigured to tell me I was there on the night this ballet was filmed and no searching for my ticket stub and programme will “pierce the fearful hollow of thine ear” and tell me otherwise. Presented as part of the Australian Ballet’s 2020 Digital Season, thanks to SBS Archives & Philippe Charluet from Stella Films, I was curious to see if and how reality could be suspended, as I revisited Shakespeare’s universal tale of young love and age-old hate from the comfort of my lounge room, seven-weeks into self-isolation, and in the middle of the day. But then this moment too will one day be a memory. When I next get to actually sit inside the State Theatre it will be radically different to the last time, but I am hopeful I’ll be able to see ballet performed live there once more.
All of this I carried with me to “Romeo & Juliet” reimagined by Murphy. I turned off my phone, and rewound to 2011, before Eastoe and Daniel Gaudiello (as Mercutio) et al. retired or left the company. It was surprising easily to find myself within the stone walls of Verona. And easier still, from first blush to final devastation, to move to an ice ball Antarctica, a temple in South East Asia, a bazaar in India, and a tomb in the Australian desert.2 It might have taken a little longer to lose my head, but lose it I still did. I echo Murphy’s Choreographic Note, written in 2011, but true today: “This timeless tale is in fact a tale for ALL times. LOVE transforms and transcends, opening a door to reveal a different world, where time bends and stretches and landscapes appear both familiar and foreign.”3
In fact, maybe I was even capable of feeling the moonlight on my face a little bit more than I did all those years ago. Right now, with theatres, museums, and galleries closed, I willingly opened this door to this real, un-real world. In an interview Murphy gave during the making of “Romeo & Juliet,” he commented that once you open the door to love, things never appear the same again, and this seems in accordance to where we find ourselves today: unable to see things the same again. “There’s a whole reassessment of who you are, where you are, how you are, what time does, and [Murphy is playing] with that fluidity, because if you believe in [Romeo and Juliet’s] journey, then you can believe in the fantasy worlds [Murphy is] taking you in and out of.”4 Shape-shifting with ease, from movements light and buoyant to syncopated beats, here, I can read Shakespeare without words, and in Prokofiev’s score, the story is not told to music but rather in music.
To paraphrase Murphy, traditionally, in classical ballet, you fight gravity, you defy gravity, you float above it, you get on pointe so you don’t look like you are attached to the floor; whereas contemporary dance really loves that the ground is the source of your jump, your energy, and you are akin to a plant taking nutrients from the earth. Murphy’s “Romeo & Juliet” asks the dancers to be both because they can be both. And by accepting that one minute you are above the floor and the next minute upon it, the dimensions change, and you are in a third dimension, and that can only be a beautiful thing for a dancer to experience and by turn convey to the audience.5 Together with Creative, Janet Vernon, working with two sets of eyes with one central meeting point, finding new ways of interpreting the classical technique gives us a new representation of what ballet can be.
Hypnotised by the artistry, wooed by the dramatic layers in the original text and score, I embellished my memories with sequins boiled in water so as to make them curl like petals (in costumes by Akira Isogawa). All lights and two beings dancing together for all eternity.6
(In Australia) you can revisit or be introduced to “Romeo & Juliet” until 14 May.
Claudia Hammond,“Most of us tend to think of time as linear, absolute and constantly “running out” – but is that really true? And how can we change our perceptions to feel better about its passing?” BBC Future, published December 4, 2019, accessed May 9, 2020.
“Hopefully we get out there and move people, and tell them a story. If I can do that, and people are crying at the end, I’ve done my job. I think [Eastoe and I are] both eager to get on the stage because it stops it from being eyes around the studio, very close to you, watching every little thing you do. But when you are on stage, it’s just lights, and a black box, and you and your partner; and that’s when you can really let that chemistry go, and that’s when suddenly it becomes two beings dancing together on the stage.” Kevin Jackson [transcribed from interview], “Graeme Murphy’s ‘Romeo & Juliet:’ A New Vision,” screened as part of the Australian Ballet’s 2020 Digital Season.