Joffrey Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

by Ashlee Blosser

Photo provided by The Music Center

Photo provided by The Music Center

If I could summarize Joffrey Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet it would be: simplicity speaks volumes. Through Krzysztof Pastor’s choreography and Tatyana Van Walsum’s set and costume design, Romeo and Juliet came alive in a different century that was dynamic, simplistic, and highly entertaining. 

Pastor’s choreography was full-bodied with a high demand for physicality. His movement seemed aspired by Balanchine technique with early 1900s’ Jazz Age nuances. Tatyana Van Walsum’s set and costume design were done extremely well as it brought focus on the performance instead of embellishing it.

The most intriguing part of Pastor’s version of Romeo and Juliet was how he highlighted social issues just as much as the classic forbidden romance.

Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet did two time-hops starting in the 1930s’ jumping to the 1950s’ and ending in the 1990s’. These time hops were to used to show the endless cycle of violence and hostilities in society as iterated by projections on the backdrop from wars during these eras.

All the partnering in the fight scenes were magnetic to watch as the movement and transitions were simple yet intricate. Throughout the partner-work, the performers seamlessly shared and transferred weight using each others momentum portraying the violence as a continuous, spinning cycle.

One of Pastor’s choreographic decisions that won my heart for this ballet was his use of dramatic pauses as the orchestra continued performing Prokofiev’s score, allowing the audience to take in everything that happened. The pauses were long and increased the drama of the story, which I appreciated as this allowed Prokofiev’s score to tell the story as well. One repeated transition of Pastor’s involved the ensemble flawlessly coming to stillness, followed by either a quick drop or slow melt to the ground to reveal Juliet in a spotlight. Once the music took over telling the story, she would slowly walk around the stage as a symbol hope amidst the conflict.

Performer, Fabrice Calmels, as Capulet was terrifyingly intimidating as he commanded the stage every time he appeared.  Mercutio, performed by Derrick Agnoletti, stole the show with his amusing spunky, flamboyant, ruff-scallion antics. Agnoletti’s performance of Mercutio was vibrant, provocative, and alive as he displayed high technical skills with power. 

The chemistry between performers Dylan Gutierrez as Romeo and Jeraldine Mendoza as Juliet was not to be missed either. Both nailed the infatuated head-over-heels love story between Romeo and Juliet. During each duet, there was a loud level of trust that only strengthened the playful, awe-provoking moments. These two characters had several motifs throughout their duets that caught my attention and warmed my heart. Several times when Romeo lifted Juliet into a stag jump, she did a quick kick of her legs that blushed “oh stop it, you.” One of the most endearing motifs was the use of them putting their hands on the sides of each others faces. That gentle, compassionate touch spoke volumes to how absent tender, human understanding is in society.

There is always an expectation of acting when going to see a ballet, however, the acting of Joffrey Ballet’s performers was truly impressive. The performers came from an authentic emotional place and I felt I was genuinely watching the characters in the story, and not watching performers be the characters.

Less is always more like Joffrey Ballet's Romeo and Juliet showed. The genius simplicity within Pastor’s choreography and transitions, Van Walsum’s costume and set design, and the performer’s genuine acting spoke volumes and allowed for the story to captivatingly play out the intricacies and complexities of violence that ring through every generation.