Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal opened its 50th season with Jean -Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet, set to Prokofiev’s score.
The striking contemporary choreography was at first slightly jarring, however the playful angular movements soon brought the story to life. Maillot’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s rich score is quite unusual in its simplicity and modernity.
The tale of the star-crossed lovers is arguably Prokofiev’s finest ballet, and is usually set in period costume, with much brocade and velvet, large companies and elaborate set design. Maillot has broken with tradition, using contemporary choreography, a minimalist set design and flowing, roman-inspired, costumes.
Maillot’s choreography is elegant and strong. Rather than focus on a story of feuding families, Maillot has chosen to spotlight the emotions of adolescent love. The duets between Romeo and Juliet evoke the spark that is felt at first love – the desire to be as close as humanly possible to the other person, but at the same time the inevitable awkwardness that arises when you are still strangers.
Using Mercutio as the jester, Maillot brings wit and naughtiness to the first act and beginning of the second. The choreography is almost slapstick in its humor, many sexual references are made, bums are slapped and breasts are fondled, all of which re-enforces Maillot’s adolescent world.
The character of Friar Lawrence is an original addition of Maillot’s. The character is one of the most beautifully choreographed in the entire piece; his solos are incredibly moving and powerful. Maillot uses Friar Lawrence to foreshadow the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s tale.
Set design and lighting play as much of a role in the contemporary staging as does the choreography. Painter Ernest Pignon-Ernest created a stark white set of movable panels and a ramp. The lines are clean and long. Even more impressive was the lighting that brought the performance from excellent to extraordinary. Playing off of the white panels, Dominique Drillot’s lighting of the ballet transports the audience into the hearts and minds of the young lovers.
This is the second time Les Grands Ballets Canadiens has staged Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet. It is back by popular demand. It is a work not to be missed.
Students tickets: $25 on Fridays.
Romeo and Juliet is at Place Des Arts until Nov. 4