Remember when I said I was planning on more artist’s dates, particularly to the theatre? Well, I’ve just been to a couple of recent ballet performances and loving it!
I also mentioned in another post that I’ve been loving the Royal Opera House’s YouTube ballet videos, particularly their rehearsal videos where they go into so much detail behind the tweaking of, say, one turn of the arm or the lifting of a leg just a little higher or lower, or the narrative behind the dance. And I’ve been keen to do see some live ballet again which happily coincided with the fact that the WA Ballet is currently running productions of both Romeo and Juliet and Radio and Juliet on alternate evenings with a discount to the latter if you already have a ticket to the former!
We went first to see Romeo and Juliet! I had been hoping for the Kenneth MacMillan version, but it was instead a production featuring choreography by Budapest-born choreographer Youri Vamos. I’ll admit I hadn’t bothered to read much about what this particular production would be like and was a little worried when I saw Romeo wearing a shirt and tie in the opening scene. (I don’t know about you, but I’m a little tired of modern clothing in period shows. We’ve had enough of that with this year’s production of Othello! Let’s bring on some gorgeous elaborate period costumes!) But the following scene soon revealed the wardrobe and the set to be all 1930s-era gangsters and print dresses with little hats! Yay!
My favourite scene was the tango-like dance at the Capulets’ ball set to Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights – very dramatic and very gorgeous. And I love that we never see the Prince but each time he shows up it’s in a gleaming black car at the back of the stage from where he beckons the others to him to issue his orders. It was all very The Mob! Juliet’s mother was another favourite of mine. She doesn’t actually dance (not that I remember), but she stands around looking very cold and disdainful and when she discovers Tybalt is dead, she runs to the Prince’s car which just so happens to be passing by, bangs on the hood to make him stop, hops in to spill her grievances, and when she gets out she’s obviously got what she wanted because she slams the door shut with a very spiteful look on her face! I love it! You get the feeling that even the Prince is a little afraid of Lady Capulet. Can we say #bosslady?
One little gripe though: I know Romeo and Juliet are supposed to be young (in the play, Juliet is 13 going on 14 and though it’s uncertain what age Romeo was, it’s generally assumed he is perhaps just a few years older). But I couldn’t help feeling they were really young, and, dare I say it, a tad immature in this show. Juliet threw me off when she stamped her foot and made faces at the audience, which got a few laughs but also made her come off like a spoilt young child. I almost didn’t like her for it!
Also, I’m not sure how old the dancers playing Romeo, Juliet and Mercutio were, but they seemed quite young in appearance compared with some of the other dancers playing Tybalt, Benvolio and the other men. The disparity in the ages was rather jarring – it felt odd seeing Romeo and Mercutio sparring off with the other Capulet and Montague men, almost as if, “Hey, why are all these grown men hanging out with a couple of school kids?”
A couple of women leaving the theatre behind me commented, “The story is actually a very silly tragedy, isn’t it?” And when you look at the bare bones of the story, it is. Two teenagers meet, fall in love, decide to marry against their family wishes, are separated and then kill themselves – all in the space of a few days. You can’t help but wonder if they had just gotten swept up in puppy love and the drama of their feuding families – and that if they had stayed together for more than a couple of weeks the hormones might have worn off and they would have broken up! But the more I think about it, I think what really makes the story of Romeo and Juliet, and what makes us think the pair are truly genuine in their love, is Shakespeare’s wonderful way with language and the beautiful dialogue he creates for the characters. Unfortunately for me, some part of that sincerity and earnest beauty behind Romeo and Juliet’s love just didn’t translate all the way through in this particular show.
So a few pros and cons for me here. But while Romeo and Juliet left me feeling a little cold at times, Radio and Juliet definitely more than made up for it. It was pros all the way with this one!
I went into the show not knowing what to expect other than knowing that it’s the story of Romeo and Juliet set to Radiohead’s songs (yeah!!) and that most of the scenes are flashbacks as recalled by Juliet while she’s in her tomb beside her dead Romeo, with Juliet ultimately deciding to live. I don’t know if it’s because of the Radiohead music, but I got a distinct 90s vibe coming from the ballet – which I love! Juliet’s slicked back hair, the corset and the dark wine lips are all also very reminiscent of 90s beauty trends and 90s supermodels like Linda Evangelista. And hot damn! The guys in their blazers hanging open to reveal lots of very toned abs! One woman near us stood up and wolf-whistled a few times during the applause at the end and we couldn’t help but laugh and wonder if she knew any of the dancers or was just wolf-whistling in general at their hotness. If it was the latter, we’d totally understand!
Radio and Juliet was choreographed by Romanian dancer Edward Clug, and it’s all very stark, very sharp and very virile movements. At some points, it almost feels like contemporary dance, rather than ballet. The set is stripped back and kept plain with occasional black and white video footage playing on the back wall and had a contemporary art feel to it.
Some of the things that stood out include the aforementioned overall 90s feel, the opening scene featuring video footage of Juliet wandering through a dilapidated apartment, reflecting on her lost love to the music of Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack, and Mercutio’s death scene (or should we say after-death scene) performed, of course, to Radiohead’s Bulletproof…I Wish I Was. There was such a bittersweet poignancy about Mercutio’s dance which made you realise just how brightly his life burnt – and also how quickly it burnt out. Mercutio has always been a favourite with Romeo and Juliet aficionados and in a way it was he who stood out the most – you realise that Mercutio, with his merry mischief, his irrelevance and his loyalty, was more alive than anyone else in Verona.
Radio and Juliet lasted about an hour with no interval. It went by very quickly and left me wanting more! It was a great experience and one I’ll be thinking about for quite some time.
Disclaimer: While the top two pictures are my own, the bottom two are from the WA Ballet website.