Unravel. The Training Ground

22 July 2022, Erindale Theatre, Canberra

‘Two households both alike in dignity …’ So goes the opening line of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, referring as it does to the Montagues and the Capulets, two families whose life, and their longstanding feud with each other, unfold in the play. There’s not much dignity, however, between the Montagues and the Capulets as they are portrayed in Unravel, the latest work from Canberra’s Training Ground company. But there is a lot of aggression both in gesture and facial expression and in the choreography. The Montagues are a family of ‘corporate tycoons’ and the Capulets are ‘common delinquents’, and their behaviour reflects these lifestyles.

This is clearly not the Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare created but an imagining (or unravelling) by Bonnie Neate and Suzi Piani, Training Ground’s directors. In addition to moving the story into the present (a world of tycoons and delinquents?), Paris, normally a male character seeking marriage to Juliet, is a woman, danced with suitable overkill by Hollie Teer, soon to be betrothed (she hopes) to Romeo. The significant scene of the ball where Romeo first encounters Juliet is a ‘Montague Masquerade Ball’ rather than one held by the Capulets. There is no priest to marry the couple and to dispense a potion. And Juliet eventually commits suicide in her bathtub (unable to manage the feuding situation, which remains from Shakespeare, and the interference by Paris?).

Romeo sees Juliet for the first time at the Montague Masquerade Ball in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Choreographically there were moments to remember, especially some of the groupings of dancers—I especially remember an undulating line of dancers towards the end—and the whole was beautifully rehearsed and strongly performed. But there is no doubt in my mind that the duets between Romeo and Juliet were the highlights. Ali Mayes (Juliet) has exceptional fluidity, and extraordinary line in all her movements as a result of her beautifully proportioned limbs. Her duets with Joshua Walsh (Romeo) were choreographed to exploit that line and her ability to move her body to fill the space around her.

Romeo and Juliet dance together in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Film by Cowboy Hat Films was nicely incorporated on several occasions. Footage set the scene to explain the nature of two households, for example. The Montagues at one point appear in a modern office setting (Canberra’s Brindabella Business Park perhaps) where they are directed to work by Mrs Montague, a role performed with appropriate belligerence by Imogen Addison, while the Capulets are seen making their way along an alley filled with rubbish bins, detritus and graffiti (no doubt one of many in Canberra’s Civic Centre). Less confrontational but nevertheless especially powerful, was the watery footage that followed Juliet’s suicide.

The aspect of the production that I found the least satisfying was its episodic nature. Of course there are many episodes in the R & J story that need to be shown whatever the context, but it was annoying when one episode finished and another started without some kind of linking mechanism. It was often too abrupt. A similar situation arose with the changes to the music. One musical excerpt would stop suddenly, there would be silence, and then another, quite different in mood, would start. Similarly with some of the footage and the very bright (overbright I think) lighting of some scenes.

But despite these gripes, the work was well produced and performed and moved Canberra dance in a new and unusual direction. The Training Ground is an initiative of Neate and Piani to give performance opportunities to pre-professional and advanced contemporary dancers in the ACT and surrounding regions.

Michelle Potter, 25 July 2022

Featured image: Ali Mayes as Juliet and Joshua Walsh as Romeo in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

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