Joffrey Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, Mar. 29

As mentioned in previous posts, I saw the Joffrey’s production of Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet on Wednesday. I really enjoyed the production; I thought it chose a good story to tell and that emotion was well portrayed throughout.

I didn’t find Rory Hohenstein as Romeo to have a particularly strong stage presence. Both his character and Hohenstein as a dancer were overshadowed by Yoshihisa Arai (Mercutio). He had excellent chemistry with Christine Rocas (Juliet), though, and he was at his best in scenes of grief. The wildness in his movements as he fought Tybalt showed his grief and rage well, and his solo in the crypt was also brimming with emotion, from the moment he saw Juliet dead to when he stabbed himself and died.

Rocas was far better. Her extensions and line were long and elegant, and her presence was youthful and captivating. At two different points in the ballet, she walked across stage, alone in the light, while other dancers sat in the dark around her. The first of those moments was in fact her introduction; from that moment she commanded the audience’s attention. Her portrayal of a reserved but playful Juliet falling in love, resisting her father, and being filled with anger and grief was spot on.

One of my favorite moments of the ballet came in the party scene. All the Capulets and Capulet aligned folks were dancing; Juliet was in this group on stage left. Romeo was lurking on stage right and started slowly walking upstage, trying to closer to Juliet. You could see the exact moment that Juliet noticed, the very moment she slowed down, started losing the steps, started turning and walking towards Romeo. Their walk towards each other was initially aligned with the steps of the rest of the group, but then the group parts around them, continuing to dance while leaving Romeo and Juliet a few inches away from each other, just staring. It’s excellent choreography, and Rocas in particular shined in that moment.

Yoshihisa Arai as Mercutio danced one of the two most powerful characters in the ballet. His Mercutio was protective and sardonic, the clear leader even if Romeo seemed to officially lead the Montagues. Arai impressed with flying reverse and straddle leaps in particular.

The other powerful character, the one who dominated the story, was Capulet, danced by Fabrice Calmels. Calmels’s height contributed to this effect; he was far and away the tallest dancer onstage. His Capulet was stern and cold, rarely portraying emotion but always seeking control. Tybalt, portrayed by Temur Suluashvili, was a particularly interesting character in this production, at least partially because of Capulet’s increased presence. Tybalt was still the one who was quick to fight, but he was more clearly fighting on Capulet’s behalf, and Capulet directly enabled every fight. He refused Romeo’s repeated offers of peace, and in the fight with Mercutio, Capulet gave Tybalt a knife after Mercutio was already walking away. Capulet’s relationships with his wife and Juliet were shown as more abusive than is typical, and Tybalt’s more gentle relationships with them were something of a counterpart to that abuse. Suluashvili was excellent in the fight scenes, and I also enjoyed his interactions with Capulet’s wife.

April Daly danced Capulet’s wife, and her best scene was in Act III, when a husband is chosen for Juliet. Daly’s helplessness, grief, and longing came through in every movement and balanced Rocas’s anger and despair well.

The corps scenes, especially in the village, felt repetitive. For example, in the first scene: everyone danced, the Capulets paraded through, Mercutio said to ignore them, everyone danced, repeat several times. The corps performed well, but the emotions of the scenes felt muddled by this repetition. There was also video projected on the backdrop for the village scenes, which I mostly found distracting. The video was used to give a sense of the decade that act was set in (first act was the 1930s, second act the 1950s, third act the 1990s), but that timing came through only weakly. Along with the corps there were also a handful of supernumerary townspeople. They were not as clearly family-aligned as the corps, and again, I found them to mostly be in the way. They also made it confusing that Romeo seemed to be the Montague leader. Some of the supernumeraries were Montague-aligned and were clearly much older than Romeo; why do they have less authority? (Unlike in the play and most other stagings of the ballet, we never see any sign of Romeo’s parents.)

More on the different decades — setting the first act and in the 1930s and aligning the Capulets with the military and Mussolini worked for me but for one issue. I’ve yet to see a staging where the Montagues come off looking like they’re as at fault as the Capulets; making the Capulets fascist only increases the lopsidedness of who is to blame. The characterization of the Capulets and Montagues doesn’t particularly change as the time period changes, though. As an audience member, it mattered that they were opposed, but why they were opposed right now never mattered in acts II or III. The historical “context” wasn’t really context at all. Particularly in the third act, the time period explained the clothing style and nothing more. The three different decades were a cool idea, but it felt underdeveloped or underused.

While I found the corps choreography repetitive overall, I appreciated the choreography of the fight scenes and thought it used momentum and space well. There were also a number of details in the choreography that stood out as excellent to me, in particular  number of subtle head movements or positions. I’m excited to see this again and catch more of those details.

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