Romeo and Juliet is on two stages this month, as a classic ballet at the Slovak National Theater and as a new musical at the Nová Scéna Theatre, an unintended duel for the public’s heart
Spring has finally arrived and with it romance. In years past, Slovak boys would build a symbolic tree, a “máj”, in front of their lover’s window, each a Romeo, at least in spirit.
This spring, Romeo and Juliet themselves have taken over Bratislava, on the programme both at The Slovak National Theatre Ballet (Balet Slovenského národného divadla) and Nová Scéna Theatre (Divadlo Nová scéna). Can there be too much of such a good thing?
As a result of uncoordinated programming at the two major stages, The Slovak National Theatre Ballet is performing the classical ballet by Sergei Prokofiev, while Nová Scéna stages a musical by Gérard Presgurvic. And this time it is not only Capulets and Montagues that have drawn swords: It’s the theatres.
National Theatre Director Jozef Dolinský counts on the live orchestra to bring in the public, and the continuing popularity of ballet as “a genre that has its own audience.” Anyway, it didn’t seem important to check up on what the Nová Scéna was doing. “In Bratislava we are the only repertory ballet ensemble producing classical and neoclassical works,” he said. “So there is no acute need to coordinate our programming with other theatres.”
Similarities end with the title, Dolinský claims. Genre and staging are what give the work its appeal, borne out in attendants’ advance bookings, which “prove we do not need to be afraid of audience drop-out.” And perhaps most important, the work is among “the most appreciated and demanded by the ballet companies.”
Well, yes, this motivation is easier to understand: Similar to a strategy long ago adopted by Hollywood, reviving a work that is already a proven success is far easier than inventing an original one.
But while large theatres may be risk-averse, they seem more than ready to compete. Romeo and Juliet, step into the fray.
Judging by the TV spot and posters promoting the ballet, showing half naked Juliet killing herself over Romeo’s body to the sound of a contemporary beat, you might expect some blood and scanty costumes in a new staging.
Not so. Romeo and Juliet choreographed and directed by Italian Massimo Moricone, is a piece true to Shakespeare’s story. Prokofiev’s music and Moricone’s own award-winning, classic staging was first performed in 1991 by the Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds. Italians dominate the production: Besides the successful choreographer, guest stars Anbeta Toromani and Alessandro Macario dance in the title roles. Their Romeo and Juliet are a lovely couple, smoothly gliding through the demanding choreography with impeccable ease.
Excellent performances are also delivered by Orazio di Bella as lush Merkutio, Cosmina Sobota Zaharia as the funny Nurse, and Viola Mariner as the very strict Lady Capulet. Orazio and Viola alternate the lead roles too, but for them and others cast from our young ballet ensemble, we will have to wait until the next season – they need more time to study their roles.
The set is a Globe Theatre built in replica on stage so that we watch the story as we might have in Shakespeare’s time. Pity that this concept is not further developed in the directing, perhaps a fresh energy working against the historical limits. It works with the stunning Elizabethan costumes by Luca Dall’Alpi and Prokofiev’s music performed live is great art and a joy all its own.
All in all, this Romeo and Juliet delivers an Italian playfulness, with fresh spontaneity and fragile beauty. But as the theatre programming, Dolinský ane Moricone took no risks. In hard times, the classics will bring in audiences.
At Nová Scéna Theatre, Romeo and Juliet is turned up to a higher volume, now customary for a musical. It is not only the level of sound, but everything about the production – the costumes, lights, dance, gestures, emotions. The playbill lists names made famous by TV: Nela Pocisková, Peter Cmorík and Thomas
Puskailer are huge stars. And unlike Prokofiev’s piece, this show has no familiar melodies.
Still, Gérard Presgurvic did justice to the story, and the show works: It is raw, contemporary, unravelling in an unbroken logic of strong moments. During Father Capulet’s (Csongor Kassai) touching song about the lot of having a daughter, the audience is moved to tears. Peter Makranský’s Romeo recalls a young Bono with a soft voice, and Romana Dang Van’s Juliet is a capable all-rounder with stunning results: excellent singing, natural acting and daring dancing parts. Katarína Hasprová also brings an outstanding performance as the Nurse and Ján Slezák as Tybalt. The fighting groups of dancing Capulets and Montagues create fierce tension.
Technically, there are frequent scene changes and interesting costumes using cool prints of famous Renaissance paintings. Particularly effective is the idea of a black-and-white costumed ball, with costume fronts white and the back black. These contrasts could have been used to highlight the initial romance and separate it from the dancing crowd, but choreographer and director Ján Ďurovčík overlooked that chance. Still, overall, his vision worked.
Both theatres premiered their Romeo and Juliets within a few weeks of one another, and so far the halls are full. The Ballet takes a break in May and comes back 8 and 27 June. Nová Scéna plays the musical six times in May: 9, 10, 11 (twice), 24, and 25, with a June programme to be announced.
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