“Though most people are familiar with the Romeo and Juliet story, I was interested in exploring how we tell the tale today,” explains Artistic Director Ashley Wheater of the Joffrey Ballet’s current staging of Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo & Juliet.
Pastor, who is the director of the Polish National Ballet and resident choreographer of the Dutch National Ballet, brings a decidedly European flair to the U.S. premiere production, co-presented by the Polish National Ballet which premiered the piece in March of this year.
Departing from Shakespeare’s original 14th century setting, Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet begins in Mussolini’s Italy during the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. The next act is set in the 1950s, dancing around materialistic optimism —and political terrorism. The final act jumps to the 1990s as the country’s increasing social divisions echo the story’s conflict.
To illustrate these periods, the ballet projects multimedia videos in the background which effectively provide a nostalgic atmosphere to the clean sets and charming costumes designed by Tatyana van Walsum.
“If a story is universal, it will translate to our time and our language: in this case, the language of classical ballet with a contemporary accent,” adds Wheater. “As with Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, the narrative is explained through physical movement, rather than traditional mime. The action is driven by Prokofiev’s brilliant score, brought to full realization by Maestro Scott Speck and the Chicago Philharmonic.”
Indeed, Speck and the Chicago Philharmonic due justice to Sergei Prokofiev’s brooding music yet Pastor’s choreography fails to live up to the exceptional standards of Lubovitch’s Othello. Nevertheless the newly-conceived production is entertaining, interesting, and worth seeing.
This is the last weekend to see Romeo and Juliet which performs through March 11 at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt on 50 East Congress Parkway. For tickets ($31-$152), call 800-82-2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. For information on the Joffrey’s programs, visit www.joffrey.org.