Ballet Victoria brings classic Shakespearean tragedy to life

Photo by Gail Takahashi

Photo by Gail Takahashi

On March 9, Ballet Victoria proudly presented an adapted choreography of Sergei Prokofiev’s much-acclaimed 1935 ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Of the many Shakespearean plays that have been re-imagined for ballet, the story of the two young lovers whose thwarted passion engenders tragedy has been perhaps the most enduring. Prokofiev’s version in particular has become part of the musical canon and has inspired countless choreographers over the decades since it debuted.

Photo by Gail Takahashi

Photo by Gail Takahashi

Shakespeare’s original play is an inescapable piece of literature that most of us read in English class. However, the heart-touching themes of love and death, borrowed from Greek tragedy, continue to resonate with modern audiences. The play has the power to lift us from our respective realities, allowing us to experience Romeo and Juliet’s affections as if they were our own. It is this emotional component that the artistic director of Ballet Victoria, Paul Destrooper, appeals to and revives through well-crafted choreography and fittingly minimalistic decor. Indeed, the use of props was highly conservative: the same shapes served as Juliet’s bed, balcony, the altar, and the grave, which gave a touch of modernity to the performance and maintained focus on the dancers’ performances. “I chose to choreograph in a more classical style, with a very strong emphasis on the dramatic interpretation of the dancers,” says Destrooper.

The dancers’ theatricality was potent, making the performance spellbinding and vibrant. My personal highlight was the balcony scene, where Romeo and Juliet celebrate, in a pas de deux, their blissful love. Performed by the remarkable and gracious Andrea Bayne and Matthew Cluff, their palpable intimacy paved the way for the imminent heartbreak of the final act.

Photo by Gail Takahashi

Photo by Gail Takahashi

Prokofiev’s score gives every character a set of themes, from the delicate balcony scene, to the powerful “Dance of the Knights,” the ballet’s most famous piece and for me the epitome of the performance. The strong horns and bass in this dance, coupled with the unison of strings, combined into an emotionally charged piece of music that sent chills up my spine. Destrooper’s emotive choreography layered onto Prokofiev’s music was a delicacy for all the senses, and would have set your heart racing.

Ballet Victoria will also be presenting Prokofiev’s Cinderella this May 20–21 — after Romeo and Juliet, expect a show to absolutely not be missed! More information is available at their website.

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