Romeo and Juliet
Feeling The Love
From Tchaikovsky to Prokofiev, Baz Luhrmann to West Side Story, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, have lent themselves to endless creative interpretations and re-imaginings. Choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple’s latest production of “Romeo and Juliet” for Ballet Ireland, with music by Sergei Prokofiev, adds yet another re-imagining to that illustrious list. One that, once again, sees Shakespeare’s tale re-set in a modern, gang related setting. If several issues tarnish its overall sparkle, “Romeo and Juliet” still manages to dazzle quite brilliantly, due in no small measure to some breathtakingly beautiful, choreographic moments.
A neat introduction, by way of a props table, foreshadows both Shakespeare’s original tale and Runacre-Temple’s somewhat lacklustre re-imagining of it. Set in a school where gang violence allegedly abounds, the school’s Chaplin, together with their Form Teacher, introduce their neatly uniformed students to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Their intention is to hopefully use Shakespeare’s classic to educate them on the error of their warring ways. Whether this proves successful or not is never known, as this extraordinarily interesting approach is let dissolve into nothingness under the unconvincing guise of letting the gang related action merge with the events of Shakespeare’s play. Instead, the play within the play once again becomes the play, causing the whole to become confusing in parts and the ending to feel a little short-changed.
If its use of a school setting is confusing, it’s a situation compounded by weak costume choices, where distinctions between student gangs are accentuated so subtly, slightly different neckties and slightly deeper shades of grey in trousers and skirts, they're practically invisible. All of which brings an unneeded lack of clarity during what is a beautifully choreographed, early fight sequence. If only you could be sure who was fighting whom. Once Shakespeare’s tale takes centre stage, narrative becomes clearer, settling on the more familiar territory of rival Montague and Capulet families. In the end, masked balls, balcony scenes, and saddening deaths predictably follow, as Shakespeare’s well-worn tale travels its more familiar path to its inevitable end.
With “Romeo and Juliet” choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple revisits the tale she first visited for Ballet Ireland back in 2010. Throughout, Runacre-Temple’s choreography is simply sensational. Exquisitely fluid, each movement, each sequence, evolves as the perfect response to the movement preceding it. Even the most complex of sequences are lovingly informed with a choreographic simplicity that is utterly engaging. Most notably during group sequences where dancers interact in a beautiful interplay that, even if it slips up on synchronicity on occasion, is mesmerising to watch. Indeed, such is Runacre-Temple’s choreographic strength, even her minimal set design seems informed by a choreographic sensibility, as tables become involved in the clever, physical interplay, like another corps des ballet. Visually, it’s all extremely impressive.
Yet alongside its weak contemporary take, and school costumes that confuse more than they inform, a fundamental problem arises with its central characters frequently lacking chemistry as the star crossed lovers. Which is not to say that Ryoko Yagyu as Juliet and, in this instance, Vincenzo Di Primo as Romeo, a role shared with Rodolfo Saraiva, are in any way technically deficient. Their pas de deux are technically excellent throughout, and Yagyu's scene with Juliet’s parents and her suitor Paris, and Di Primo's fight scene with Tybalt, see both dancers deliver individually strong performances. Yet the lovers never completely ignite. Chemistry does indeed flicker on occasion, seen during the end of their balcony duet, as the lovers finally kiss, and during their final death scene. Yet both Di Primo and Yagyu, whose face and faraway gazes work almost as hard as her body, often look like lovers without the love, seeming to dance, at times, with technical excellence, over Prokofiev's rich score.
Throughout, secondary characters are remarkably well realized. Viola Daus’s Lady Capulet, Matthew Petty’s Paris, Valentin Quitman’s Friar and School Chaplin, and Javier Monier’s Benvolio are each beautifully conveyed. Sayako Tomiyoshi’s Nurse and Form Mistress, and Amand Pulaj’s Tybalt, frequently shine, often looking like the strongest characters on stage, merging a rich theatrical performativity with the excellent choreography on display. Dancers Leigh Alderson, Caetana Silva-Dias, Arianna Marchiori, Jasper Arran, Amelia O’Hara, and Emma Price round out an excellent ensemble, all of who deliver moments of sublime beauty. One richly informed by Rehearsal Director Sandrine Cassini, whose momentary tableaux are visually captivating, as is a deeply effective lighting design by Zia Holly.
If “Romeo and Juliet” has issues, one hopes they are issues that can be worked out the longer its run continues. Because it is so good when it finds its moments, its less stellar moments pale in comparison. Yet despite some drawbacks, “Romeo and Juliet” has moments of genuine beauty, with dazzling displays of choreographic flow that border on genius.
“Romeo and Juliet,” music by Sergei Prokofiev, produced by Ballet Ireland, runs at the Gaiety Theatre until November 18th before undertaking a National Tour.