Juliet and Romeo ballet. Music from numerous non-ballet Tchaikovsky scores. Mats Ek directed and choreographed this in 2013 at the Royal Swedish Ballet. Stars Mariko Kida (Juliet), Anthony Lomuljo (Romeo), Arsen Mehrabyan (Lord Capulet, Juliet's Father), Marie Lindqvist (Lady Capulet, Juliet's Mother); Niklas Ek (Duke); Ana Laguna (Nurse); Jérôme Marchand (Mercutio); Hokuto Kodama (Benvolio); Pascal Jansson (Tybalt); Oscar Salomonsson (Paris); Daria Ivanova (Rosalinda); and Jörgen Stövind (Peter). Alexander Polianichko conducts the Royal Swedish Ballet Orchestra (Concertmaster: Semmy Stalhammer). Piano soloist: Bengt-Åke Lundin. Sets and costumes designed by Magdalena Åberg; lighting designed by Linus Fellbom. Directed for video by Thomas Grimm; produced by Bernhard Fleischer. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-
How does a choreographer do something new with R&J? You're up against one of the most revered plays in the history of world literature, and there is also already a much-honored ballet version performed to the Prokofiev score, considered the best ballet music written since Tchaikovsky. Well, Ek brooded long and came up with a hyper-lite R&J performed to non-ballet Tchaikovsky music. A lot is cut out. The Montague family disappears along with Shakespeare's morality tale of families making peace after the deaths of two beautiful children. There's no friar or marriage of the young lovers; no swords, daggers, apothecary, sleeping potion, or poison; there's no attempted elopement foiled by miscommunication; and no tomb scene. The hyper-lite ballet is an hour shorter than the play.
The tone changes too. In the play R and J were social peers who were equal victims of the strife between two strong families. In Juliet and Romeo [now I've got the names reversed as Ek does it], Juliet is the only child of an important but threatened family. Romeo and his friends are rascals off the mean streets. Juliet's parents need for her to marry up, but she wants to run away with a guy who really loves her.
That's the story Ek winds up with, and that's why it's fitting to call it Juliet and Romeo. How many times has this story been done? People never, especially female people, get tired of it. So Ek's twist on R & J ought to be successful. Not to be cynical, Ek has bolstered the appeal of his version by casting key dancers who don't remind you at all of European nobility. Juliet here stands for every young woman on earth who wants out.
Our city. The set consists of 3 or 4 walls with angles that let them stand unsupported. The dancers themselves push the city around. Nothing new or original so far. But the execution is so superbly choreographed (by Ek and Eva Säfström), lit (by Linus Fellbom), and shot (by Thomas Grimm) that it's always exciting to watch:
Meet, center, Romeo (Anthony Lomuljo). To the left is his friend Benvolio (Hokuto Kodama). To his right is, you guessed it, Mercutio (Jérôme Marchand):
Romeo is infatuated with Rosalinda (Daria Ivanova), a member of the Capulet clan:
Lord Capulet and his wife have one daughter, Juliet, but no son. The leader of the younger generation of the clan is Tybalt (Pascal Jansson), the lean and lethal nephew to Lady Capulet:
Waring gangs on the streets challenge the Capulets:
The latest rumble leaves 4 dead or injured. The Duke arrives to stop the mayhem. He is played by Niklas Ek, Mats Ek's brother. This is not nepotism. Niklas has long shared the spotlight with Mats as a leading Swedish actor and dancer:
While there is anger in the streets, Juliet (Mariko Kida) lives a sheltered life. Still, Juliet knows of the dangers her countrymen face:
But Juliet is smart and has spunk:
Suddenly, Juliet is confronted by, from left to right, her mother (Marie Lindqvist), young Paris (Oscar Salomonsson), and her father (Arsen Mehrabyan). Juliet's parents have arranged for Juilet to marry Paris, who is a member of the Duke's clan. The Capulets need a well-connected son-in-law to help Tybalt protect the interests of the Capulets. Marie Lindqvist was in 2013 probably the leading Swedish ballerina (and scheduled to retire in 2014). We know guest artist Arsen Mehrabyan well from his memorable HDVD roles in Swan Lake and Spoerli Dance and Quartet:
Juliet rejects Paris to the dismay of all including Juliet's nurse (Anna Laguna). Anna is the wife of Mats Ek. Anna has been dancing in Ek productions all her career:
Romeo (with Benvolio) encounters Juliet by accident on the street. Sparks fly, but only for a moment. Juliet is going somewhere under chaperone:
The Capulets still hope that Juliet will accept Paris. They throw a party where Juliet and Paris will appear at least as friends. Romeo and his friends crash the party. In this picture, I think the entire cast is on stage (12 characters and 20 members of corps). It's hard to pick out individuals other than those on the front row and Mercutio, who is naked to the waist and wearing a tutu:
In a typical Ek move, the Capulet women show their wares. There are a bunch of beautiful Swedish legs here:
Juliet is looking for an escape hatch. She finds it at the party with the boy she met on the street. It's love at second sight:
Base Tybalt sees what is happening and tries to intervene. But he's distracted by the acid Mercutio:
After the party comes the famous balcony scene followed by the Juliet and Romeo pas de deux as shown in this wonderful shot:
It's time for comic relief, which is hard to do in a ballet. Ek, up to the task, provides this in a fabulous comic quartet of the nurse, her servant Peter (Jörgen Stövind), Benvolio, and Mercutio:
Tybalt tracks down Mercutio---the base and acid must sort out:
The death of Mercutio:
The death of Tybalt at the hands of Romeo, who realizes now, too late, what this means to him and Juliet. Then the Duke arrives, Romeo flees:
Lady Capulet and her women grieve for Tybalt:
Now Juliet's lover is also the murderer of Tybalt, the man who Juliet's mother loved above all others:
Romeo must flee again:
Following Tybalt's death, it's imperative for Juliet to marry Paris. In the play, Juliet can't marry Paris---she has already entered a lawful marriage with Romeo that was happily consummated. But here Juliet is still single. She has a choice: she can marry to help her clan, or she can defy her father and face death under the law:
Juliet chooses death:
There follows an explosive scene that shows why Mariko Kida got this role. Up to now she has been a cute girl blessed with charm in her dancing and acting. Now with astonishing leaps she proves she has all tools of her trade:
I'm not going to show you anything from the final scenes, which are quite interesting. And you already know what happens to J & R in the play. But it isn't clear at all what actually happens to this J and this R in Ek's telling. Ek didn't see this as important.
What relevance does this Ek story have to anyone, and especially to young women, in Sweden, or France, or the United States, or Australia? Young people are still influenced to marry "well" everywhere. My experience has been that the mothers are more active in this arena than fathers; and sure enough, this influence can lead to baneful results. But I'm also aware of other cultures where arranged marriages tend to get better results for most young people than the Western insistence on having free choice to seek "true love." But even in those systems, both the man and woman have a veto power. I doubt there is any young woman on earth who is faced with a forced marriage situation and who would also have opportunity to see a video about this in ballet form made by artists in Sweden.
Still, I think that Ek must hope that his J & R will be popular, as least an an allegory of women's rights, in both western and non-western cultures. That's why his Juliet and Benvolio are Japanese, his Romeo and Nurse are Hispanic, his Lord Capulet Armenian, and his Mercutio French. He tried to make the cast as cosmopolitan as he could and his choices have an everyman flavor in a profession where everyone whom you audition is extraordinary.
Sum up: once you get used to the lite libretto in this J & R, everything else is positive. With minimum fuss, Magdalena Åberg comes up with city walls and costumes that are interesting and convincing. The choreography is fresh and original, and the stars all shine as dancers and actors. The music is familiar but intriguing as reused, the sound is fine, and the Thomas Grimm video is impeccable with a great mix of full-stage, mid-range, near-range, and close-up shots. I wind up with a grade of "A-". If this title becomes a hot seller in non-western markets, I'll bump the grade up to an "A" or "A+."
[Additional credits for Performance Filming reported on the video: Audiomix by Tony Dickman and Lars-Göran Ehn. Choreologist was Eva Säfström. Stage Manager was Eric Alm. Make-up was by Bibi Frenzel and Gun Elfström. Chief Electrician was Ola Norlén. Technical Project Manager was Sven Almqvist. Project Coordinator was Ann-Christin Danhammar. Technical Director was Kurt Blomquist. General Director was Birgitta Svendén. Artistic Director of Royal Swedish Ballet was Johannes Öhman. Camera operators were Jörgen Arrebáck, Isabelle Audigé, Peter Mild, Marina Poole, Mattias Sackrén, Fredrik Silfverhjelm, and Christer Törnquist. Chief Technician was Martin Ahnelöv. Engineer was Johan Lundberg. Vision Engineer was Roger Kihlblom. Audio Engineer was Mats Bengtsson. Assistant Video Director was Myriam Hoyer. Producer was Judit Stassak. Editor was Janine Dauterich. Audio Mastering was done by Clemens Deller. Color Matching & Finishing was by Miguel A. Lopez. Production Supervisor was Jochen Hermann. Commissioning Editor was Ditte Feuk. The set and costumes were manufactured in the workshops of the Royal Swedish Opera.]
In January 2016 Mats Ek retired and announced he was withdrawing all his works (subject to current contracts) from performance, quite possibly for the rest of his life. After 50 years of deadline pressure, he plans to loaf. Juliet and Romeo was his last major work, and a few performances are scheduled for a year through 2018. After that, subject HDVD may become the most important single avenue for one to enjoy his choreography. (There are a few older DVDs also on the market.)