By BRUCE DENNILL
Geneva Ballet / Romeo & Juliette / Choreographed by Joelle Bouvier / Joburg Theatre, Johannesburg
Geneva Ballet have made something of a speciality of overhauling classical works in such a way that lovers of both traditional ballet and contemporary dance find plenty to celebrate.
Their Romeo & Juliette sits squarely in that box, with the set comprising nothing more than a sweeping wooden berm that adds a vertical dimension to the dancers’ space and a slope that requires speed to stay on (or playing dead to slide off…).
Joelle Bouvier’s choreography is elegant, dotted with balletic moments mixed into sequences by the attractive, athletic corps. They’re dressed in modern clothing – spring dresses (all black for the mourning scenes, different colours elsewhere) – and are barefoot. There is no pointe work, though the ballerinas do perform an extended number on tiptoe in what would very recognisably be a pointe position.
The star-crossed lovers are played by Sara Shigenari and Nahuel Vega, who need to die twice, as the story begins at their funeral and ends as they breathe their last. That narrative curve is the production’s only potential weakness – the publicity material suggests that the story runs backwards, as opposed to backwards, sort-of-forwards and then backwards again.
This structure allows Bouvier to work in a number of takes on Shakespeare’s fight scenes, which is good news, as two of the best dancers in the piece are the chiselled Nathanael Marie and the compact, powerful Vladimir Ippolitov as Tybalt and Mercutio, respectively.
Shigenari and Vega do manage to communicate much of the tenderness required of their characters’ relationship – particularly in a beautifully worked moment in which a sheet is lifted
of the former using clever cable work – between dramatically lowered into graves and the like. The latter moment, in Juliette’s case, is one of the highlights of the show, as inventive use of a number of long, pointed lances (the only props other than the berm and the sheet) are used to form a litter for the prostrate (ex)heroine.
Sergei Prokofiev’s music is fantastic throughout, with the soundtrack well-produced enough to make up for the music not being played live by an orchestra.
This production asks a number of challenging, exciting questions. Though it didn’t sell out, it developed good audiences via word of mouth, suggesting that classical ballet on the one hand and highly conceptual contemporary work on the other need not be the only options for South African audiences unsure of where they stand on either.
Local choreographers, take note. And get working.