PROKOFIEV GETS POLITICAL
This is not your usual Romeo and Juliet. Truncated and concentrated, Joffrey Ballet’s U.S. premiere of Krzysztof Pastor’s two-act treatment of Profofiev’s celebrated ballet carries no Renaissance finery, just real-world immediacy. Premiered by the Scottish Ballet in 2008, this muscular treatment of ancient Verona isolates the lovers all the more against a police state run by shakedown families who do not seem reconciled by the tragic end.
Performed in near-monochromatic and vaguely 1950s costumes against a severe totalitarian backdrop reminiscent of De Chirico Brutalist cityscapes, this spartan tale of star-crossed lovers depicts the Capulets in austere black and the Montagues in bare boned white garb (a colorblind person could see the first act exactly as intended). The multimedia video backdrop depicts three political eras through grainy and unfocused newsreel footage of assorted atrocities, natural and human. The lovers, it seems, are orphans of several storms.
The public always played a part in even the most traditional versions of this burnished romance. But Pastor makes them observers (or spies) even in the lovers’ supposedly intimate pas de deux after a ballroom scene that’s even colder than usual.
It’s as if Pastor gave Prokofiev the opportunity to protest Stalin’s tyranny that he never had in 1940.
Scott Speck superbly directs the wonderful Chicago Philharmonic, the score retaining its sumptuous, sometimes scary orchestrations. But Pastor’s dance creation plays interesting tricks, like giving Friar Lawrence (handsome Lucas Segovia) a lovely, late-blooming pas de deux with Juliet before she accepts his poisonous solution. The street fights carry the usual contagious violence, but here too elderly onlookers at the back give the brawls a very public perspective. The action, especially in the second half, feels quicker, with the lovers’ separation barely palpable before their ill-timed, death-soaked reunion. The ensemble movements are suitably swift and cutting, lurching and twisting like the music from rhapsodic leaps to deadly close quarters.
Though palpably older than the supposedly 16-year-old Romeo, opening night’s Rory Hohenstein literally rose to the occasion, while Christine Rocas’ slyly smiling Juliet really earned her innocence, the one pure thing in a fatally divided world. Huge and hulking Fabrice Calmels loomed malignantly as the death merchant Capulet, Temur Suluashvili menaced magnificently as Tybalt and, as bittersweet comic relief, Yoshihisa Arai’s doomed and mercurial Mercutio recalled the lone man facing tanks in Tiananmen Square.
You won’t bathe in reflections of romantic escapism during Pastor’s 135-minute agitprop revision. But to its credit it updates 16th century familial rivalry to our own modern meanness. Romeo and Juliet’s martyred love never seemed such an exception to the rulers.
photos by Cheryl Mann
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