By Erin Ward
VANCOUVER – The story is familiar, but Ballet BC takes Romeo + Juliet to some new and unexpected places with the most recent addition to their repertoire. With minimal sets, a dramatic score, and Medhi Walerski’s powerful choreography, the tragic tale comes alive once again.
Walerski makes use of the minimal set — three tall rectangular blocks that are open in the middle — and the large cast of dancers to create complex layers onstage. The blocks, which the dancers effortlessly guide into new configurations, are surprisingly effective at suggesting the presence of buildings, windows, and doors. When Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time at the Capulet ball, they are positioned so as to delineate an outdoor terrace, where the two escape the party to explore their connection. Beyond this suggestion of a terrace and behind the rectangles that now appear to be windows, a group of dancers dressed in formal black attire are frozen into shapes reminiscent of party-goers, creating a sort of vignette of the party happening inside.
Aided by Sergei Prokofiev’s original score, drama builds in the second half of the show as the conflict between the Montague and Capulet families comes to head. At times, dancers, who do not represent recognizable characters from Romeo and Juliet, express the emotion rather than the narrative of the scene.
In one such scene, Juliet moves across the stage as shadowy figures dressed in black writhe and seethe on the floor around her. As she paces, considering a little glass vial from the Friar, the figures follow along by levering over one another, reaching up a limb or two before slinking back to the floor into the slightly sinister mass of moving bodies. These dancers are not characters in the narrative of Romeo and Juliet, instead they seem to convey the turmoil in Juliet’s mind as she makes her decision and signify the darkness that awaits her.
The scenes are rich with symbolism and in one particularly poignant sequence, Juliet is joined by Mercutio and Tybalt, both now deceased, who dance slowly with her, keeping pace with the slightly ominous music. Juliet seems unaware of the presence of these apparitions and does not respond as they move her across the floor. It is as though, in considering the vial, she is dancing with death, and the imagery of the scene foretells the tragedy that is to come.
Romeo + Juliet, March 22 at Queen Elizabeth Theatreballet bc