Occasionally in life, if you are really lucky, you get to see a work which reaches with delicacy, directness and supreme intelligence into the history of its own technical tradition and pulls out something so fresh and unique that it takes you until you get home to catch your breath and bask in the realisation of perfection. But the impact of its beauty will stay with you for the rest of your life. This is what you would have been privileged to experience in the Geneva Ballet’s Roméo & Juliette.
Several years ago, Martin Schönberg, artistic director of Ballet Theatre Afrikan choreographed a dance work in response to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It was a piece of dance which effectively redefined the music. Joëlle Bouvier’s work on the overture to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet music does just this: if you’ve been in the presence of this segueing of dance and music, Shakespeare and the idea of love, you will never again be able to hear the Prokofiev, without in your mind’s eye seeing this extraordinarily simple yet immensely evolved work.
The creative team responsible for this work reflects on a reality of contemporary times: audiences know Shakespeare. Audiences don’t, as a rule, have patience for long, overblown renditions of things. The practicalities of frilly costumes and massive complicated sets don’t always justify their presence. Director Philippe Cohen and his team have taken the original Romeo and Juliet, and glanced with a ruthless wisdom and an impeccable intellect, at not only the history and tradition around this play and how it has been translated on so many levels over hundreds of productions. They’ve pared it down to an hour and ten minutes’ worth of some of the most unspeakably beautiful dance you will get to see in this country.
There’s a resonance of gestures of love so tender and so final, you wish to weep, but force yourself not to, because you don’t want to miss a single nuance. Sara Shigenari dances Juliette opposite Nahuel Vega who is her Roméo: there’s such a palpable yet immensely affectionate give and take between the two of them, you can almost hear their hearts beat, as you can hold onto believing this is the real teenage manifestations of Shakespeare’s ill-fated lovers.
The work contains deliciously sublime fight choreography and a set comprising one great smooth crescent of a platform which embraces the stage and becomes the world, with subtle nuance of light and movement which plays across it. There cannot be a more beautiful and lonely articulation than of the slight young woman within a shroud that doubles as a wedding veil. The scene where Juliet’s corpse is raised on sticks, also explodes envelopes without losing the plot and makes you completely incredulous as to what you are seeing.
And yes, the specifics of the original story are edited out of the equation, but are they really necessary? Geneva Ballet presents the nub of the Romeo and Juliet story. You are left the richer for the manner in which it is abbreviated and constructed. This dance company has just completed their second ever South African collaborative tour: hopefully it is not the last time South African dance audiences will get to see the remarkable magic that this team of creative sprites makes. But if it is, the legacy of this simple yet supremely complex work which teases the eyes and bewilders the heart, gives hope: beauty really has a place in this world.
- Roméo & Juliette, based on the play by William Shakespeare is directed by Philippe Cohen and features creative input by Joëlle Bouvier (choreographer), assisted by Rafael Pardillo and Emilio Urbina; Sergei Prokofiev (music); Rémi Nicolas and Jacqueline Bosson (set); Philippe Comeau and Joëlle Bouvier (costumes); and Rémi Nicolas (lighting). It is performed by Serafima Demianova (pianist); Vladimir Ippolitov, Nathanaël Marie, Sara Shigenari; and Nahuel Veganovel (principals) and Céline Allain, Yumi Alzawa, Valentino Bertolini, Louise Bille, Natan Bouzy, Ornella Capece, Xavier Juyon, David Lagerqvist, Virginie Nopper, Angela Rebelo, Simone Repele, Sarawanee Tanatanit, Geoffrey van Dyck, Lysandra van Heesewijk, and Madeline Wong (Geneva Ballet company). It enjoyed a brief season at the Nelson Mandela, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein which ended on June 21. 011-877-6800 or joburgtheatre.com