Date: July 21, 2013
Company: Geneva Ballet
Choreography: Joëlle Bouvier
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.
The story of Romeo and Juliet has been retold in different contexts, perhaps unusually daringly, if not also effectively, in Baz Luhrmann’s Hollywood flick featuring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. But Luhrmann sets the romance in contemporary New York. In Geneva’s version, the scenery and costumes remain unattributed to any time and space, in stark contrast to Kenneth MacMillan’s formal realism seen a few months back on the same stage. The set, built by Rémi Nicolas and Jacqueline Bosson, includes almost nothing but a curved ramp, spanning the entire width of the stage, that reveals neither a time in history nor a specific location. When Juliet ascends back to her balcony, she would tiptoe nervously up the ramp like a cat climbing up a creaky plank. Towards the end of the ballet, Romeo is seen pulling Juliet repeatedly up the ramp, as if to steal her away from the devil, only to then see her body haplessly rolling back to the bottom and into a deadly still. The ramp effectively serves as an agnostic stand-in for anything that requires elevation, whether physical (the balcony) or metaphorical (the distance between life and death). Romeo fails to pull Juliet’s body repeatedly, in a seemingly Sisyphean task — in the midst of Prokofiev’s tomb music — only to reinforce the brutality of the inevitable awaiting the pair. One could almost hear children in the audience gasping in sorrow, as if ready to implore the protagonist to wait a few more minutes.
Joëlle Bouvier’s choreography is modern ballet, where dancers keep their point shoes in the locker. Sara Shigenari’s Juliet moved with bare feet and never on pointe, while Armando Gonzalez’s Romeo didn’t tour jete into a stately arabesque. The unconventional lifts and rapid motions in Bouvier’s choreography are not strictly speaking classical ballet material, but Bouvier’s lavish use of muscular movements to alternately depict physical strength and emotional fragility ultimately is, perhaps more. By stripping the technical formalities of classical ballet as well as the formal aesthetics of period sets and costumes, Bouvier asserts the use of muscular energy and curving body lines as not only the ultimate expressive medium but her preferred means of responding to Prokofiev’s magnificent score, prerecorded and played over loudspeaker. In the balcony pas de deux, the bodies of Shingenari and Gonzalez slowly accordion-ed from distance to embrace, ultimately curving into each other with youthful passion but never overt eroticism. Vladimir Ippolitov was sincere and playful as Mercutio, though his great fight scene with Tybalt was irritatingly mismatched with Juliet’s decidedly unprovocative mandolin music. Loris Bonani’s Tybalt set ablaze the stage with a volcano of fiery anger, and his unconventional duel with Romeo, bare-fisted and without swords, was like two bulls locked in a tight horn fight: it was surely not the chosen method of settling scores between the two noble houses, but the armor-less fight punched with real energy and emotion, not unlike the bloody, chilling parallel in Luhrmann’s efficient version. In the end, Bouvier’s vision remains faithful to the man from Avon. Equally importantly, it was every bit as faithful to the designs of love, violence and death as love, violence and death have ever been.