Some of the many consequences of the current pandemic are the cancellations of art exhibitions and dance, theatre and music performances. I had tickets to see Ballet BC perform their new ballet, Romeo + Juliet, on March 14.
I am a huge fan of this Shakespearean tragedy. I enjoyed teaching it to high school students (Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.) and I always showed them the gorgeous Franco Zeffirelli film from 1968. (If you watch the film, look for a very young Emma Thompson as an extra in the ballroom scene.)
In 2003, Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruins theatre company did an unforgettable version of it, set in a downtown parkade. I think it was one of the most creative and engaging theatre performances I have attended. Ever.
I enjoy dance, and have a fondness for most classical ballet. I was looking forward to the show. The title typography, Romeo + Juliet, promised a fresh take on the story, just as the film, Romeo + Juliet had done in 1996. Click here for the movie trailer. (If you haven’t seen the film, be prepared for the very in-your-face, distopian setting.)
Dance Victoria and Ballet BC made the brave, financially challenging and wise decision to cancel the performances, to avoid the spread of the virus. Fortunately, season ticket holders were given a link to a video of the première performance in Vancouver, on March 6.
I watched the performance twice, before the link expired. Wowser! It is, indeed, a creative interpretation of a classic story. It did not disappoint.
The choreography is by Medhi Walerski, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Walerski is a dancer and a choreographer at the Nederlands Dans Theater. (May I suggest that if you are going down any rabbit holes today, please avail yourself of the NDT link.)
The show is visually stunning, with the costumes, set and lighting design a collaboration between Walerski, Theun Mosk, and Pierre Pontvianne. The minimalist style is a marked departure from many interpretations of other classical “story” ballets, such as The Nutcracker. Here are a few brief video images that will give you a sense of the style of this production. I appreciated how the lighting changed, depending on the scene. The chiaroscuro-style lighting was particularly effective in the ballroom scene, as Romeo and Juliet were spotlit amongst the corps, who sometimes moved in slow motion, and sometimes became completely still, signalling an important moment in time. It allowed the audience to focus on the couple, and not be distracted by the other dancers.
The set was minimal. The movable rectangles, decidedly coffin shaped, were symbolic and functional.
The dancers were strong, confident and lyrical. They were as much actors, as they are talented dancers. Here is a (too) short video of the creation of the ballet at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.
Walerski uses the corps to express the emotions of the characters. In the scond act, when Juliet prepares to drink the sleeping potion, the corps is a shadowed, writhing mass on the floor, and around her. It dramatically represents her fear, anxiety and turmoil. The image of the scenes will stay with me for a long time.
Ballet BC and Medhi Walerski have created a noteworthy interpretation of this classic ballet. I hope we can all see this as a live performance one day. In the meantime, one last short video from Ballet BC’s Romeo + Juliet.