A Krzystof Pastor/Joffrey Ballet Masterpiece Review- "Romeo and Juliet" opens at The Auditorium

The Joffrey Ballet opened its 2016-2017 season on October 13 at The Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, 50 East Congress Parkway, with the return of Krzystof Pastor’s “Romeo and Juliet”, created for the Scottish Ballet in 2008, which premiered in Chicago in Spring 2014. The opening night revealed a polished and stunningly beautiful modern revision of William Shakespeare’s immortal tale, with the emphasis on the theme of longstanding rivalry “burying the lead story" of star-crossed lovers.

The Joffrey Ballet

The action still takes place in Italy, but not in ancient rural Verona. It is set in a different strife-filled time for each of it’s 3 acts-the 1930’s, the 1950’s, and the 1990’s- created by the use of video images of Italy in different decades writ large as backdrop on a giant screen. These appear at the beginning of each changing era/act and the dance story develops framed by a shifting videographic display of catastrophic death and calamity. The artwork serves as background to deliberately repetetive choreographed sequences including that of Juliet filled with hopeless anguish, traversing a stage of corpses.The overall effect is to render the death of the young lovers as an inevitable result in any time period filled with such enmity. In it’s startling calm beauty, permanent repose offers the ultimate release from as well as sacrifice to war and divisive hatred.

Temur Suluashvili and Yoshihisa Arai

It must also be mentioned that the striking costumes- crafted, as was the diverting original set design by Tatyana Van Walsum, aptly captured the roles of the characters and the direction of the piece. The leading men's superbly tailored suits -(Romeo’s garb being an appropriate exception in casual dove-grey shirtsleeves)-contrast perfectly with the subtle white drapery of Juliet, the role- appropriate or sophisticated frocks of the ballerinas, the perfectly fitted and timelessly correct subdued clothing of the rest of the male dancers.

April Daly and Fabrice Calmels

The gorgeous Sergei Prokofiev score  composed in 1935 was rendered richly and evocatively by the Chicago Philharmonic under the sure baton of Maestro Scott Speck. While Pastor retained the basic integrity of the musical structure in the scenes, he digresses from the original score only in that  Prokofiev’s melodies as composed for specific characters instead become suggestive of the general tone or feeling of the scenes themselves. Amazingly, the music felt ever modern and new, nuanced and strong.

Christine Rocas as Juliet

The opening night performance featured star performances from the Joffrey dancers. Christine Rocas was a dream of a Juliet, soft, sensuous and determined in turn, the counterpoint to tragedy. Rory Hohenstein partnered her with grace in the love scenes, although his character, as written, lacked force and import.  Fabrice Calmels as Juliet’s father, Capulet, was an authoritative and stern figure on stage, joined by a firm and stately April Daly as Lady Capulet. The other two male stars, Temur Suluashvili as Tybalt and Yoshihisa Arai as Mercutio served brilliantly as the dramatic vehicles for the confrontation.

Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas as Romeo and Juliet

The rest of the cast, in lively group dances, not without humorous gestures, performed the lovely ballet, achieving the feel of it's differing eras with the athletic precision and virtuoso prowess we expect from the Joffrey. Kudos to Executive Director Greg Cameron and Artistic Director Ashley Wheater for giving us a cast and a company that are a model for diversity, access and inclusion.

Amanda Assucena and Anastasia Holden

"Romeo and Juliet" is being presented as part of the yearlong 2016 "Shakespeare 400 Chicago" Festival, which will prove to be the world's largest and most comprehensive celebration of the Bard's legacy.

Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas as Romeo and Juliet


For information and tickets to the remaining performances of Romeo and Juliet, through October 23, go to Joffrey Ballet website - it is most highly recommended!


All photos courtesy of Cheryl Mann




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