BAM OPERA HOUSE OCTOBER 21-24, 1998
REVIEWED BY ALICE NAUDE
"But you should feel moved when they die," protested the man silting behind me. In Angelin Preljocaj's stunning Romeo and Juliet, love is overshadowed by the totalitarian state in which this production is set. Here, Tybalt is not killed but stands mockingly over the dead lovers as the drama concludes. Tenderness and innocence, the heart of Shakespeare's story, are nowhere to be found. To enter this choreographer's singular vision, you have to stop looking for romance.
The child of Albanian refugees, Preljocaj created this Romeo and Juliet on Lyons National Opera Ballet in 1991. For these performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, his own company was in full control of the demanding and highly original choreography. While it includes hints of ballet, Preljocaj's idiom is distinctly modern. He favors rigorous physicality and a nonnarrative syle that tells the story in big, evocative gestures.
His Verona is populated by a ruling class and by the homeless. The Capulet militiamen are represented by angular movement and goose steps; their women are jaded and mechanical. By contrast, the Montague street people unleash exultant barrel jumps and wheeling arm movements that simultaneously evoke freedom and lack of control. These precise characterizations allow a truncated version of the story to move quickly.
In our first vision of Juliet, danced in different casts by Claudia de Smet and Nadine Comminges, she is bent at the waist, so that her behind sticks up awkwardly. Straightening up, she moves tentatively, like a colt trying to find its legs. When she meets Romeo, Sylvain Groud or Stephane Loras, their mutual suspicion quickly melts as they recognize the possibility of crossing class lines. Their virtuosic and violent duets often seem to be about fighting each other's differences. But when Romeo whirls Juliet around so that she seems to be flying above him, the moment is so astonishing that it seems that human feeling really can break the rules of this confined society.
Enki Bilal's sets locate the action in what looks like an abandoned factory, where the homeless live in hole's in the walls and militiamen patrol the roof with searchlights and guard dogs. Jacques Chatelet's light crosses the stage at sharp angles or falls in a single cone of light over the lovers, who are otherwise surrounded by darkness. It's chilling, desolate, and beautiful.
But beauty can never win out in this atmosphere. Preljocaj cuts up and rearranges Sergei Prokofiev's score, interspersing it with the sound of static and blowing wind. Instead of billowing up, the music's power is suppressed. The totalitarian state ultimately controls and orders everything in this production. Its message is for the mind instead of the heart.
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|Title Annotation:||Review; Bam Opera House|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1999|
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