Mátalor | StageArtPhotos – Belinda Strodder www.dancephotography.net.au

The bodies of six men lie in a funereal state, under flickering, misty lights, as if in a mediaeval morgue, against the backdrop of the stunning stained-glass windows for which Chapel off Chapel is famous.

Four figures parade in, form a huddle, then move to their musical instruments.

You know the performance is about to start but half the audience still jump in their seats as the first drum crash heralds a spiced-up version of the Queen classic, We Will Rock You.

This startling introduction proves to be symbolic of the whole show – you know what’s going to happen but it still shocks you when it does.

Mátalor – described as a Hard Rock Dance Opera – is based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, cleverly contrasting dance styles to underline the irreconcilable differences between the warring families: the darkly dressed Capulets are represented by contemporary jazz, acrobatics and break dancing, while the Montagues, in red, are Latin and street dancers. Wearing white, the Veronas are a mix of both, which was a bit confusing at first.

However, such detail almost fades to insignificance against the storm of dancing that rains down in the first half of the show. The choreography of the fights scenes is sublime, and its execution awe inspiring, so it is easy to temporarily take for granted the key ingredient that holds it all together – the music.

Reading director Robbie Carmellotti’s spiel afterwards, I was not surprised to learn that “the soundtrack was set in stone prior to rehearsals starting and it hasn’t change since”.

“The music is a key piece in the Mátalor puzzle,” he writes, and it is certainly a key point of difference, having such excellent live musicians on stage. Between the four of them more than 20 instruments are played, including some great innovations, such as violin strings against xylophones and cymbals, and beads rolled around in a drum.

Natalie Calia’s rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine would have overshadowed the dancers, if the accompanying duet wasn’t the most poignant performance of the show.

By contrast, one of the lowlights was the next solo – nicely sung by Jessica Barlow but spoiled by having her microphone too close to her mouth, so her amplified breathing and crackling was a distraction that broke the moment’s spell. But it’s only a minor point and the soundtrack is good enough to sell.

Apart from a few missed notes on the piano and landings that failed to stick possibly the result of first-night nerves – the performance is hard to fault and it sets a new standard for storytelling.

Fans of So You Think You Can Dance and Strictly Dancing will recognise a few familiar faces – Romeo is played by Alexander Bryan, the lead in the first all-male couple to reach the finals of the latter – while Rosalia is played by Zoe Unkovich, whose talent as a dancesport champion shows in every step. Incidentally, co-choreographer Adam Blakey partnered with Unkovich to win the Victorian Professional Latin Championship in 2009; for Mátalor he collaborates with contemporary dance specialist Stephen Agisilaou.

Whether you go for the music, the story or a love of dance, there is something for everyone in this 45 minute-long display of raw-yet-honed excitement.

StageArt presents

Venue: Chapel off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran, VIC
Dates: October 12 – 22, 2011
Times: 6:30pm, Matinee Saturdays 1:30pm
Tickets: $30 Full, $25 Concession, Group 10+, $100 Family (2 Adults, 2 Children) (+Transaction Fee)
Bookings: (03) 8290 7000
Visit: www.matalor.com

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