The innovative, boundary-breaking ballet Romeo et Juliette Suite drew sold-out audiences at La Seine Musicale in September 2022. The production reflected the shared commitment of this entertainment venue and its part-owner TF1 to offer a varied and compelling program that will appeal to a broad public.
By Laura Franchet
A huge screen towers over a fiery red stage. Sixteen dancers weave in and out and confront one another in a thrilling ballet depicting the rivalry between the Capulet and Montaigu families. With the music of Sergei Prokofiev filling the auditorium of La Seine Musicale, choreographer and filmmaker Benjamin Millepied gives us his rendering of this Shakespearean drama, refashioned for the year 2022. His Romeo et Juliette Suite breaks with convention: the principal roles are played either by a man and a woman, two men, or two women depending on the performance, with the audience only learning which they will see when the show begins. “I’m totally convinced we cannot talk about love today by talking only about the feelings between a man and a woman,” insists Millepied, “so the casting changes from one performance to the next to more truly reflect what we are seeing everywhere in society.”
In 2010, Benjamin Millepied’s career veered in a new direction when the director Darren Aronofsky asked him to choreograph scenes in his film Black Swan. He was named Director of Dance at the Opéra national de Paris in 2013, and around the same time founded the L.A. Dance Project (see p. 98). “His Romeo et Juliette Suite stands out because Benjamin is going back to a classic work, but one where he could apply a more contemporary vision and reach a broader and more diverse public,” comments Olivier Haber, CEO of STS Événements, the operator of La Seine Musicale and the ballet’s coproducer. After being postponed four times due to the Covid pandemic, the ballet finally reached the stage, running from the 15th to 25th of September 2022. Noting that 35,000 tickets were sold, Haber declares that “a great show found its audience.”
I’m totally convinced we cannot talk about love today by talking only about the feelings between a man and a woman. So the casting changes from one performance to the next to more truly reflect what we are seeing everywhere in society.
mixing dance and cinema
With Sierra Herrera and Peter Mazurowski in the leading roles on September 20th 2022, the star-crossed lovers begin a splendid dance sequence on the stage, then suddenly, to the audience’s astonishment, leave the auditorium, cross the hall of La Seine Musicale, and arrive outside, on the Place Rodin, for the scene where they kiss.
With Olivier Simola directing, all the dancer’s movements are captured by the camera of photography director Trevor Tweeten and projected live on the big screen in the theater. The camera circles around the couple, zooming in, zooming out, and inspiring in the audience the same whirl of emotions that the two lovers are feeling.
The entire ballet is filmed and retransmitted live. Millepied saw this novel technical and artistic approach as a way “to tell the story more realistically, free of the conventions we customarily associate with classical ballet.” It enabled the choreographer to create moments of the ballet off-stage. Dressing rooms, hallways, loading docks… dancers popped up again and again in unexpected places at La Seine Musicale. A big effort was made to use lighting to bring the story into the modern world too. “The dancers performed some scenes holding light tubes, while the neon lighting created a continuous visual language between the space and the dancers,” explains François-Pierre Couture, a lighting and set manager. And all the while, a 20-strong technical team was working backstage during the performance. The cast received a standing ovation lasting several minutes from an audience deeply moved by this bold and original production.
Shakespeare on TF1
Overlooking the terraces lined with restaurants on the forecourt of La Seine Musicale, an enormous screen with a gold background announced the event: “Romeo et Juliette Suite, création mondiale”. To promote the ballet’s world premiere (“création mondiale”), a full-scale advertising campaign was rolled out. Three-panel posters showing the three pairs of dancers were placed in the Paris metro, and extensive coverage appeared in major publications (Le Monde, Télérama, Têtu, Konbini…) in the run-up to the show. “We gave the promotional visuals a contemporary look to match the choreographer’s vision,” says Mélissa Saint-Fort, head of Marketing, Communication, and Partnership at La Seine Musicale. She also notes that “as the TF1 group is a 55-percent shareholder, La Seine Musicale has a close relationship with TF1’s advertising sales busiess and thus benefits from lower rates and advanced knowledge of the programming of advertising.” Part of the ad budget also went to digital promotion, in particular video advertising preceding programs on TMC such as Quotidien, and the sponsoring of posts on the social media MyLittleParis and Aufeminin1. Another example of synergy, the recording of the ballet by the production company Helliox was acquired by TF1 and broadcast in the autumn of 2022. Form the stage to television, this creative success breaks with conventions and transcends notions of gender.
A stage for music and culture of all kinds
Chief Executive Officer, STS Événements
How would you describe La Seine Musicale?
Since 2017, La Seine Musicale has performed multiple roles – operations, programming, and production. The auditorium is a venue for jazz and classical music concerts as well as for innovative works like the show Les Songes at the beginning of this year that brought together Joey Starr and the trumpet player Ibrahim Maalouf. Up to three major productions are scheduled at La Grande Seine each year such as West Side Story in 2017, the National Ballet of China in 2018, and Starmania since late 2022. Our aim is to include many types of artistic creation in our program to reach all the public. We also organize open houses and cocktail hour concerts that are free of charge. In short, we want to be known as a stage for all types of music and culture.
What are the synergies between La Seine Musicale and TF1?
When we coproduce an artistic event, it lasts only a short time. Partnering with the TF1 group allows us to stay in touch with the audience over a longer period. TF1 offers performers a wide variety of ways to promote their work. La Seine Musicale participates in Muzeek One, which was created by TF1 in 2019. This unit headed by Ara Aprikian [Executive Vice President, Content, of the TF1 group – ed.] encompasses all the musical and theatrical activities. Since 2019, TF1 has also had a majority stake in the Play Two brand, which produces entertainers like Gims, Vitaa, Slimane, Gaëtan Roussel, and Julien Clerc. This strategy is in line with La Seine Musicale’s, which is to promote diverse styles of music.