BWW Review: Ballet BC Presents a Contemporary and Emotionally Impactful ROMEO & JULIET at The Soraya
Since I was a child, I have always enjoyed all types of ballet, from classical presentations with extraordinarily beautiful costumes to the most contemporary with dancers dressed simply in rehearsal leotards and tights. But none of those compare to the extraordinary and totally contemporary, emotionally impactful Ballet BC production of ROMEO & JULIET with concept, choreography and costume design by French choreographer Medhi Walerski, former Nederlands Dans Theater and Paris Opera ballet dancer who is one of the most innovative dance makers today. Set to Sergei Prokofiev's score performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn, the entire ensemble of dancers, dressed in shades of gray and black, kept me transfixed from start to the ballet's tragic closing scene.
In a first for Ballet BC, the new full-length work delves into a thought-provoking retelling of the classic that resonates today, capturing audiences with its deeply human story and enduring themes of love and family. "The vision of love that Shakespeare gave us in this master work is very precious. It is like holding a jewel in your hand that needs to be protected," according to Medhi Walerski. And he certainly has succeeded.
Founded in 1986, Ballet BC has been under the leadership of Artistic Director Emily Molnar since 2009, and the internationally acclaimed collaborative and creation-based contemporary ballet company is a leader and resource in the creation, production and education of contemporary dance in Canada. Ballet BC's very different interpretation of the romantic and tragic ballet ROMEO & JULIET was performed at The Soraya at CSUN on Saturday, February 29 at 8:00pm and Sunday, March 1 at 3:00pm. These performances marked the U.S. debut of Ballet BC's production of this ballet as well as the final U.S. performance under the direction of Emily Molnar who will take the helm of Nederlands Dans Theater in June of 2020. Following The Soraya performances, ROMEO & JULIET will tour to Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia then to the Sydney Opera House where Ballet BC will make its Australian debut.Ballet BC is committed to its role as a leader in the community through dancer training opportunities, community and audience outreach, and professional development activities. The ensemble's dancers are a group of open-minded and curious artists, each unique for their dynamic movement while sharing an intuitive passion for dance. I can certainly attest to the ensemble's dedication and skill on display while watching their expressive contemporary choreography combined with the most provocative, physical storytelling skills I have ever witnessed in any ballet.
Shakespeare's tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks has been adapted into many format, perhaps Leonard Bernstein's Academy-Award winning film West Side Story being the most familiar to audiences. But I have also seen a stage adaptation set in a circus in which the Capulets were high and mighty acrobats while the Montagues were slapstick clowns. Ballet BC chose to keep both families of equal importance, dressed in similar styles with the Capulets in darker shades of charcoal gray and black while the Montagues's lighter shades of gray immediately set the two sides apart as they intermingled during street scenes or split apart to take sides during fights.
And speaking of fights, Walerski brilliantly used shading techniques to denote the emotional state of each character. Heartsick Romeo (Justin Rapaport and Dex Van Ter Meij share the role) and his innocent Juliet (Emily Chessa and Kirsten Wicklund) always appear dressed in white, which immediately sets them apart from the rest of the cast who swirl about them as their love story is born and then unravels. While there are so many moments I can discuss which reflect this, perhaps the most evocative occurred during the scenes as death approaches when the undulating ensemble dressed totally in black seems to be calling the lovers to follow them to their final resting place.
And then there was the incredible Jordan Lang as Tybalt, the instigator of violent behavior whose all-black costume and slithering movements across the stage floor communicated his snake-in-the-grass character looking for his next victim. When challenged by Romeo's best friends Mercutio (Scott Fowler and Zenon Zubyk) and Benvolio (Patrick Kilbane and Chase Buntrock), both incredible leapers whose joyous youthfulness was always on full display, Tybalt challenges the duo for crashing the Capulet's party. And of course, that fight escalates into a double murder which signals the end of Romeo and Juliet's great love affair and recent, secret marriage.
Juliet's Nurse (Alexis Fletcher) may not really have much dancing to do, but her emotions are certainly apparent as she gets caught between wanting to do the right thing for Juliet but also stay loyal to her employers. With just a turn of her head, Fletcher was able to telegraph her innermost regret or confusion as she pushes the heartbroken Juliet to follow her parents (Makaila Wallace and Sylvain Senez) wishes to marry Paris (Adrian De Leeuw) after Romeo has been banished. And then there's Friar Laurence (Peter Smida) who agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet even though he, and the Nurse, are aware what such a match will do to both families. And when things go incredibly wrong, it is the Friar who, with the best intention, sets in motion the most tragic of endings.
Mosk's set design incorporates several large rectangles which are moved around by members of the ensemble to represent doorways, windows, and even Juliet's balcony when set on a side. Mosk, along with Walerski and Pierre Pontvianne, have designed lighting effects which communicate not only the darkness of the story but the bright morning light shining on the newlyweds as the two dance the most incredibly evocative pas de deux of lovemaking I have ever witnessed done in this ballet. After witnessing their great physical connection, it almost becomes tolerable that the two decide to take their own lives rather than live without the other. Almost....
For more information about BC Ballet and their upcoming tour schedule, please visit BalletBC.com or on Facebook or You Tube where you can watch their incredible performances from around the world. And please make plans to be in the audience whenever they appear in a city near you to be as dazzled by their talent just as I was.
Photo credit: Luis Luque | Luque Photography
Featuring Ballet BC Dancers Emily Chessa and Justin Rapaport as Romeo and Juliet