Geneva Ballet’s Romeo and Juliette – Artistic Director Philippe Cohen

The Geneva Ballet (Grand Théâtre de Genève) debuts in Johannesburg in June at the Mandela, Joburg Theatre with Romeo and Juliette.  

The company is considered one of the most original dance companies in Europe, excelling in variations of the classical ballet vernacular through innovative artistic collaborations. With an average age of 25, Geneva Ballet is a company that features youthful dancers from around the world and includes the South African Angela Rebelo, niece of well-known South African actors Nicky Rebelo and Jennifer Steyn Rebelo.


R and J

It’s my honour to speak to the Artistic Director of The Geneva Ballet Philippe Cohen. 

Is this your first time in South Africa and what has your experience of our country been like?

 I have traveled to South Africa on a number of occasions for professional reasons. Most notably was the successful tour in 2014 to Grahamstown (National Arts Festival) and Cape Town (Artscape) where the company was greeted with great enthusiasm. 

South Africa for me is a wonderful place to visit. Full of vibrant culture, landscapes and the people are so generous and sincere.

 You’re working with Joëlle Bouvier, who has re-imagined Shakespeare’s classic tragedy as a contemporary piece, re-visiting the ballet in an inventive way. Please describe the experience of adapting this classic in this way? What have the challenges been and what has been easy?

 Joëlle Bouvier retells this classic with a certain abstraction.  The picturesque historical characteristics are secondary. Her perspective is more universal rather than a recognizable historical setting and prefers to concentrate rather on the story’s essential turning points, the intention being to allow the medium of dance to speak directly to the audience’s hearts and emotions. I think the biggest challenge was for Joëlle to work with an orchestra for the first time. The easiest was her natural sense of stagecraft and space adaptation.

 My blog likes to address the golden thread of humanity which is the way in which artists, actors, musicians, and dancers tweak the emotions of people across ages, generations, continents. Here we have a modernized version of an age old story, done by a ballet company 200 years old. I should imagine that this should appeal to young and old. In which way should we expect this show to make us feel?

 R and J2Romeo and Juliet is a story of love stifled by hate. A family devastated by the violence of two enemy clans, ruthless rivals with no other reason for the bloody feud than that they belonged to two distinct families. How many wars in the world today reflect the tragedy of Shakespeare? I believe the audience will be able to relate to these emotions, be it love, hate or death.

 Why do you think audiences today can still relate to shows that originated centuries ago?

 We have evolved over the centuries but we still have the same society issues. I believe this is why audiences can identify themselves in many ways to these epic tales of tragedy.

 Do you hope for the show to be purely entertainment or for people to go away thinking?

 Definitely the latter. I believe the audience will be immersed with emotion during and after the performance and maybe return home relating something they felt to themselves and their own lives.

 As a major component of it’s two week visit to Johannesburg, the Geneva Ballet company, with a focus on choreography in a variety of forms and expression., will be involved in a collaborative project with South African choreographers and dancers. This project will involve four local choreographers, Gregory Maqoma, Mamela Nyamza, P J Sabbagha, Fana Tshabalala and Nathanaël Marie from the Geneva Ballet. It will take place at the Soweto Theatre, the Dance Space in Newtown, The Forgotten Angle Collaborative at University of Johannesburg Arts & Culture and at the Hilbrow Theatre from 8-14 June. The creative result of this collaboration will be showcased in partnership at the Soweto and Wits Theatres on June 13 and 14 respectively. Please tell me more about this community related aspect of your tour.

 This unique artistic encounter enables South African and Geneva Ballet dancers/choreographers to exchange/work in a dialogue and a transmission of knowledge through the international language of dance. Through this art form we can transmit the ideas of different cultures and enrich the process of invention.

How have ballet audiences changed in your experience and how have ballets adapted to meet this?

 Audiences have evolved just like we have as human beings over time. Of course all art forms need to meet these demands. Also as artists we are sensitive and listen to the demands of the public but at the same time try to push their imaginations further beyond what they believe exists.

 What lies ahead for the Geneva Ballet?

 Upon completion of our performances here in Johannesburg the company will be traveling to Turkey before a well deserved vacation for myself and the dancers. The following season will be very exciting traveling vastly around the world. Most notably Brazil and China.

Read my interview with company member Angela Rebelo here

Roméo & Juliette performances are from Wednesday 17 June – Friday 19 June at 8pm, Saturday 20 June at 3pm & 8pm and Sunday 21 June at 2pm.

Tickets  range from R180 to R350 and are on sale via the Joburg Theatre website  or by calling the theatre’s direct ticketing line on 0861 670 670.  



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