Anyone who dares to think Shakespeare is irrelevant or old hat should experience the ultra-modern distillation of one of his tragic tales by Ballet Mirabor.
The Slovenian ensemble of seven presented its distillation of “Romeo and Juliet” on Thursday night at Proctors, and rather than entwining it with the familiar Prokofiev score, choreographer Edward Clug paired his ill-fated lovers with the sobering music of Radiohead.
Renamed “Radio and Juliet,” the production lured not just ballet fans to Proctors, but rock music fans, too. And that’s great, as this is the kind of work — ripe with strife and passion, as well as magnificent dancing — that can turn ballet apathy into ballet enthusiasm.
Everything about this fast-moving production, which is just an hour long, keeps audiences riveted. It begins with a black and white film, reeling audiences back in time. The camera travels through a door and up the stairs to a sun-streamed, white room full of light. On a bed lies a young woman. With her eyes wide open, she appears dead.
As the audience become entranced in this vision, and the minimalist music that rides along with it, men start to walk casually onto the stage. They enter precisely, one at a time, as if commanders in a military unit. The projection ends, and we snap into a flashback, transported to the journey that leads to this beautiful woman’s end.
Though a love story, this is a macho dance, with men who move with cold calculation. Coupled with Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier,” a poster for pointless lives, the piece screams for the world to gain purpose, to strive for what’s worthy.
Tijuana Krizman, who dances Juliet and is the only woman in the show, represents love, that beacon of healing and hope. All six men, the symbols of Romeo and Tybalt included, notice her, desire her, but she gravitates to Romeo and they meet in a tentative duet that surges into full-blown ardor.
Their tete-a-tete dissolves into battles between two divisive factions. In explosive fights, the men kick, knee and rip at each other with sneering distaste. They entangle like a vat of pit vipers with a sole aim of killing each other. These scenes are powerful in their violence and disruption.
In yet another scene, the Tybalt character looks to strangle the Mercutio figure. As he crawls away, Tybalt’s henchmen finish him off — mishandling him by lifting him by his collar, jacket back and pants — as if he were a useless item to discard.
As the music pulsates or rages, Clug spotlights modern society’s cold disjointedness, an indictment on our war-weary world.
Of course, there is romance, and the references are clear to two people uniting, with a kiss, and collapsing and soaring in each other’s arms. And then there is the dying — Romeo is sprawled on the floor, and Juliet ends her life and the night with one swipe across the throat.
Through it all, the ballet does not have one second in which all eyes are not fixed on the action.
When it made its U.S. debut at Jacob’s Pillow in 2009, “Radio and Juliet” was wonderful, but it has grown even better with age. This is a Shakespeare ballet for the ages.
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