The Joffrey Ballet's Romeo and Juliet
Polish Choreographer Kryzsztof Masterful
By: Susan Hall - May 12, 2014
Romeo and Juliet
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
The Joffrey Ballet
Choreographed by Krzysztof Pastor
Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Scott Speck
The Joffrey Ballet is a treasured company in Chicago, where its artistic director Ashley Wheater was named Chicagoan of the Year (2013) for his contributions to dance. The state gave him, on behalf of the Joffrey Company, its highest honor, the Lincoln Laureate.
The current production of Romeo and Juliet is representative of the company’s work and a tour de force. Krzysztof Pastor, director of the Polish National Ballet and also the Lithuanian National Ballet and the Dutch Ballet and Opera has mounted a timeless version of the story.
Set in Italy, the three acts span a century. The first act is set in pre World War II Italy, the second setting is Italy, immediately post war. The third, the 1990s, but definitely the age of Victoria’s Secret in whose nightwear Juliet now dances.
Taking us on a journey through eras suspends the story for all time. Family pitted against family is tragically a major drama in human history. The jagged and yet beautiful staged ballet hits you hard in the gut, even as you watch the classical movements of the Joffrey troupe.
The ballet language incorporates the classical with very contemporary gestures and steps. Nothing jars. A seamless and apt dream unravels in front of us. The emotional story telling is completely in control, even when brawling, stabbing and poison are involved.
The basic choreographic language does not vary from period to period, but the background projections do. So too the costumes in which time’s passage is effectively captured by Tatyana Van Walsum. She is also responsible for the dramatic drop down columns which become a balcony for Juliet, mirrored so that we are treated to a double image. Staging by Amanda Eyles and lighting by Bert Dalhuysen make this mounting dark, dramatic and searing.
Fabrice Calmais as Juliet’s father dominates the scenes in which he dances. His is the signature Prokoviev theme, the processional, which he slices and dices through the air with a menacing grace. Lyrical and savage this haunted man was magnificent.
April Daly is his wife, and her need to serve as spouse and yet soothe and comfort her daughter is dramatized in lovely movements, and also anguished gestures.
Juliet seems light as a feather, evanescent, but her newly awakened desire for Romeo, and terrible conflict as she defies her father are delicately conveyed by Christine Rocas.
Temor Suluasvili is one of the slightest men to dance, but he takes advantage of his long, light legs and spindly arms to create an almost ghostly presence that embeds itself on stage.
Street life comes close to West Side Story from time to time, but listening to the Prokoviev score, you wonder how Leonard Bernstein had the chutzpah to take on Serge. The Chicago Philharmonic under Scott Speck gave the music a splendid resonance, and always supported the performance.
Romeo and Juliet is the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays which have been transformed into ballets. The Kenneth Macmillan choreography is seen most frequently and was made into a film which clearly set a standard for conventional presentation, although of course Macmillan allowed dancers to be dragged across the stage, which was both sumptuous and glamorous.
The texture of the Joffrey production was rich mainly in its emotional variety and stunning dancers. No holds barred in this new production, but it is thrilling as it takes off from pointe work, that is always grounded and inviting. The Joffrey is surely worth a visit wherever you are. They are based in Chicago, but travel to Houston, Tucson, New Orleans, Cuyahoga Falls, OH, Washington DC, Baltimore, and Detroit.
Here is a video clip of this choreography as performed in Poland last July.
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