By Sue Langenberg
It was the United States premiere of a new version of “Romeo and Juliet” that Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet presented for a run of ten performances at the Auditorium Theatre. The Shakespeare tale of more than 400 hundred years danced to Sergei Prokofiev’s classic score. Choreography by director of Polish National Ballet Krzysztof Pastor and musical direction by Scott Speck set the stage.
This contemporary version celebrated a world premiere in 2008 for The Scottish Ballet in Edinburgh. It has been cutting-edge since. The star-crossed lovers are still Montagues and Capulets of the warring clans, but updated to Italy of the 1930’s during a backdrop of darkness in pre-war Europe. Set and costume designs by Tatyana Van Walsum and lighting by Bert Dalhuysen were thus transformed into more black and white starkness than say, Kenneth MacMillan’s version of ballroom opulence starring Rudolph Nureyev and Margo Fonteyn in the ‘60s or John Cranko’s earlier version for Stuttgart.
About the bleakness of black and white, perhaps the visual chasm between military starkness and glorious life and promise between lovers is yet more striking which can be a plus in this production. Beyond that, there’s nothing new under the sun in times of love and war. This newer version deserves accolades, of course, but yet cannot make a dent in the already established strength of two geniuses, Shakespeare and Prokofiev.
Shakespeare needs no introduction. His eternal jokes against us and all of humanity are undying lessons every time his tales are told and retold in all performing arts genres. Prokofiev, with his richness of musical testosterone and adventurous paths into unpredictable key changes, propels the story like none other. There is little to add; everything else falls by the wayside.
And thus any updated creation is still overwhelming to the point of drunken appreciation for history, for brilliance beyond the footlights and graveyards, and for the tears that we all may experience meantime. One need not notice anything else.
Matinee performance yesterday featured sylphlike April Daly as Juliet. She was technically stunning as well as magically compelling. Her grasp of the eternal role captured all the Juliets of the Ages with lyrical innocence and love-struck determination. Her more than decade rise upward to Joffrey principal has been a journey from Rockford Dance Company via The Washington Ballet and New School University in New York. This growth meantime has allowed her to develop into a true artist. Her regal quality of yore has since blossomed beyond the more orderly confines of classic pas de deux into a marvelous exploration of deserving roles.
Miguel Angel Blanco as Romeo danced the handsome and convincing suitor with extraordinary timing to lift and present Juliet as a soaring feather. His presence blended well when necessary, yet upstaged other males when called upon to be Romeo, whether for love or death.
Notable and deserving the shouts of final curtain applause, was Derrick Agnoletti as Romeo’s friend Mercutio. He pulled audience focus, upstage or down, with witty ease. He gestured spoofs and flippant spirit all while performing technical perfection. Precise petit allegro and solid pirouettes were but parenthetical feats beneath his tongue-in-cheek character. His featured presence as a classic jester will guarantee ongoing excitement in JB’s repertoire.
No less important major roles were danced by John Mark Giragosian (Benvollo), Fabrice Calmels (Capulet), Kara Zimmerman (wife), Matthew Adamczyk (Tybalt), Graham Maverick (Friar Lawrence) Jeraldine Mendoza and Amber Neumann (Juliet’s friends), Ogulcan Borova (Paris) with an extended cast of Montagues, Capulets, Soldiers and Townspeople to tell a good story.
There are theatre moments in life from curtain to encore that are so breath holding that an audience can be daunted by the sheer enormity of it all. In the last fading notes of the last fading pool of light of Juliet, director Speck in the pit raised his baton as if to say, “…and all are punished…”